23 October 1998
Scottish Office forces rethink of Islands aid
By Allan Wright
PLANS by local authorities to give emergency aid to farmers in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles were being revised this week after original proposals were rejected by the Scottish Office for breaking EU state aid rules.
The claim for extra subsidies is now being based on disaster aid and a similar submission from Ireland, already before EU authorities, is thought likely to help the islanders case.
But the affair has already caused chaos. Shetland Islands Council announced last Wednesday that it would provide £60,000 to subsidise the “export” of cast ewes and light lambs to the Scottish mainland.
A special sale was organised for last Saturday. But, the previous day, the Scottish Office advised that the freight subsidy would be challenged by the EU as unfair state aid.
“The result was that some ewes were sold at 50p, but most farmers took their stock home. Several have already started to slaughter sheep for which there is no market, no grazing, and no winter feed,” said Jim Budge, Shetland NFU vice-president.
Orkney Islands Council was prepared to give farmers £250,000 to import barley, hay and straw – commodities they normally export but which are in short supply this year following the wet summer.
“The money would have paid freight charges of £40/t for fodder and £18/t for barley and that was deemed to be against the rules,” said Orkney NFU secretary Kenny Slater.
The councils and the Scottish NFU are now working with the Scottish Office to draw up a disaster aid plan which would be acceptable to Brussels. The money would still come from the island councils.
“We are very hopeful that a package can be delivered and the fact that the Irish have a similar claim in Brussels can only help our case,” said Scottish NFU vice-president Jim Walker.
But Irish farmers insist the aid is not nearly enough and will be demanding more when 20,000 of them march through Dublin on Wednesday (28 October).
“We have a list of demands, including extending family support payments to the self employed. We think 20,000 Irish farming families could qualify,” said an Irish Farmers Association spokesman.