“In an extraordinary move the [rural affairs] minister has delegated responsibility for deciding where the budget will be cut to the Environment, Planning and Countryside Committee,” said Mr Davies.
The decision was announced during the assembly’s budget debate. During the debate opposition parties threatened to bring down the minority Labour administration over several issues, including a 40% cut in funding for the scheme which replaced Hill Livestock Compensatory Payments – Tir Mynydd.
“I have absolutely no doubt that we will restore the £12m cut in spending on Tir Mynydd which is due in March and ensure that farmers will get the full £36m in 2008. After consulting the industry all opposition parties agree that this has to be done.
“I have put the issue on the agenda for our first meeting in January. As the overall rural budget has been cut, restoring payments means we will have to re-prioritise spending on different areas. Put simply, this means that the pain will be transferred, perhaps to agri-environment or advisory and promotion schemes.”
The move would involve drafting the Wales Rural Development Plan. This and continuing disagreement about voluntary modulation could delay submission to the EU Commission until next autumn.
To get the plan approved it would probably be necessary to modify the present Tir Mynydd scheme to include auditable environmental benefits.
Mary James, deputy director of NFU Cymru agreed that the scheme’s structure was “not set in aspic”. Farmers were prepared to talk about change needed to get the RDP approved by Brussels.
But she warned that closer links to the environment could cause problems of double funding for farmers already involved in agri-environment schemes.
After 12 months of lobbying, members said they were ‘bitterly disappointed’ that the minister had decided to pass the buck to the assembly’s EPC committee.
“Around 10,500 farmers face a 40% cut in payments in 2007 and have been left in limbo about future support,” said Mrs James.
“Farming is all about long-term planning. How can farmers do this when they do not know for sure what level of support they will get from 2008?”
Assembly business managers anticipate that the EPC committee’s recommendations will be put to a plenary session before elections in May.