NFU Scotland anger at second year of rural spending cuts

Scottish farm leaders have accused ministers in Holyrood of pushing their sector over a “cliff edge”, as details emerged of a second consecutive year of rural budget cuts.

Details of the budget changes are contained in a recent letter from deputy first minister Shona Robison to Kenneth Gibson MSP, convener of the Scottish government’s finance and public administration committee.

See also: Scottish grants for bracken and skills training announced

In it, she explains that the government’s current financial situation “is among the most challenging since devolution”, with rising inflationary pressures, especially for public-sector pay.

As part of an urgent reprioritisation of spending plans, and in the absence of additional funding from Westminster, Ms Robison cited total government cuts of £680m to the 2023-24 budget.

Of this, £45.4m would have to come from the rural affairs budget – although £27.3m had already been earmarked for cutting as part of an earlier budget revision.

Anger from NFU Scotland

The news has sparked anger at NFU Scotland, which was actually expecting some £33m of deferred payments (from the Bew Review) to be returned to the budget, not further cuts.

This was based on promises made by Ms Robison in June that the money was ringfenced and would be coming back.

NFU Scotland president Martin Kennedy said: “There is justifiable anger and frustration that, for the second year in a row, millions of pounds of hard-won ‘Bew’ money has been deferred from the Scottish agricultural budget. That was a decision taken with no warning or consultation.”

The union held an emergency meeting with Ms Robison on Wednesday afternoon (22 November) and was given further assurances that all outstanding money – now worth more than £60m – would be returned to the agricultural budget in due course.

Mr Kennedy requested an explicit written commitment to that effect, as well as details of what the funds would be used for.

Scottish rural affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon had earlier signalled that in February next year she would set out the funding allocation for Tiers 1 and 2 of the government’s post-Brexit support policy for after 2025.