Scots brace themselves for further rural budget cuts

NFU Scotland has labelled planned cuts to next year’s rural budget as “disproportionate” and “potentially devastating”, saying they will undermine the sector’s confidence and scope to invest for the future.

Setting out its draft budget for 2024-25 on Tuesday (19 December), the Scottish government indicated that it would maintain direct support payments – namely the Basic Payment Scheme, “greening” and Less Favoured Area support – at current levels, worth almost £490m.

See also: BPS protected, but Welsh farmers face steep budget cuts elsewhere

However, it has shaved some £10m from other areas, including the Agricultural Transformation Fund, the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme, and the Business Development and Agricultural Reform Programme.

Furthermore, it has failed to return some £61m of deferred convergence payments, money which was expected to come into the agricultural budget for 2023.

NFU Scotland president Martin Kennedy said: “These budget cuts undermine the nation’s shared ambitions and the agricultural industry’s ability to play a full part in meeting its obligations around the production of food and drink, underpinning rural economies and communities, while reducing emissions and enhancing biodiversity. 

“Ensuring a just transition under a much-reduced budget will be incredibly difficult.”

He did, however, welcome the stability provided by fixing direct payments at current rates.

Budget cuts

In total, the agricultural budget is to be cut by £33m in cash terms – from £739m in 2023-24 to £706m in 2024-25.

This will help provide for additional spending for the NHS in Scotland and for local government services.

Deputy first minister Shona Robison said the aim was to “prioritise what really matters – supporting people through the cost-of-living crisis, investing in our front-line public services, and tackling the climate emergency head on”.

But Conservative shadow rural affairs secretary Rachael Hamilton said the cuts were a “hammer blow” for rural Scotland.

“The SNP-Green government will be the first to demand climate change targets of Scotland’s farmers and crofters, but the last to support them with a realistic budget,” she said.