South Scotland MSP and Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy, Connectivity and Transport Colin Smyth has raised concerns over forthcoming changes to the way farmers will have to apply for certain Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments.
Next month farmers will start to complete their Single Application Forms (SAF) for 2018- used for farm payments under a range of schemes.
Until this year farmers had a choice between applying online or submitting a paper application. However, from this year paper applications will no longer be issued automatically and everyone has been told to apply online.
At this time a year farmers are usually sent a paper copy of the application form, but with an option to apply online. Instead, this year they were issued with a letter without an application form, and were told to apply online. The letter made it clear that only under ‘exceptional circumstances’ would a paper copy be allowed. The letter fails to say what those circumstances are or exactly how anyone can obtain a paper copy of the application.
This contradicts a promise made by the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity Fergus Ewing in Parliament last year when he pledged “those who choose to make paper applications will continue to be able to use that route”.
Commenting on the change, Colin Smyth said, “The Government are determined to make everyone apply online because presumably it saves them money. It is ironic given how disastrous their farm payment IT system has been that they are lecturing anyone about using online methods. But what really concerns me is the fact that the Government have stopped sending paper application forms and instead are instructing everyone that they must apply online. They are refusing to give out any paper application forms except in what they say are exceptional circumstances, although they fail to say anywhere what those circumstances are. This contradicts a statement made by the Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing in Parliament when he said that people could continue to choose to make paper applications. It’s not much of a choice when you’re told you can only make a paper application in exceptional circumstances but they don’t tell you what those circumstances are”.
“I have written to the Cabinet Secretary asking him to keep his word and ensure that the Rural Payments Division make it clear, including in all future correspondence that everyone still has a choice to use a paper application if they want to do so irrespective of the circumstances. These applications have to be made by a certain date or applicants are penalised and risk losing payments. The last thing they need are delays in trying to obtain a paper application if that’s what they want, because they have had to jump through hoops to prove they need one. The majority of people already choose to apply online, but that should remain a choice. By definition people making these applications live in rural areas, with some of most appalling access to broadband in the country and it would be difficult for them to apply online. However, maybe saving money by making it difficult to apply is what the Government are trying to achieve.”
The letter contradicts a statement made by Fergus Ewing in the Parliament on 12 September 2017 when he said “those who choose to make paper applications will continue to be able to use that route”.