The European Commission will seek to clarify reports that the Scottish Government could be fined if they fail to make Basic Payments to farmers on time, it confirmed today.

Speaking at a meeting of the ECR Rural Economy Policy Group in Brussels, a senior official said the Commission would examine if any powers existed should a member state fail to make payments within the window.

The move follows comments made by former NFUS President Jim Walker, who claimed at the weekend that the EU could impose fines of up to £100 million if deadlines were not met.

During today's meeting, chaired by Conservative MEP Ian Duncan, NFUS Vice-President Rob Livesey, asked whether the Scottish Government were in danger of failing to meet their obligation to deliver payments by 30th June.

At First Ministers Questions last week Nicola Sturgeon admitted that farmers could have to wait until June for their payments, despite Farming Minister Richard Lochhead promising monies would be delivered in December.

Commenting Ian said

"No one wants fines, but if the Scottish Government is at risk of failing to meet the deadline, we need to know now. Farmers must be asking themselves just what is going on. First they were promised payments in December, only for Mr Lochhead to pay 18 percent of them less than their due payment on Hogmanay. Then Hill and Sheep farmers were told they would not receive their money on time due to the backlog. Now we hear that the Scottish Government's sheer incompetence could lead to more costs for Scottish taxpayers. This is on top of the £200 million they have already spent on the IT system. Last week Ruth Davidson called upon the First Minister to step in and take personal charge. Frankly that is something long overdue."

NFUS Vice-President Rob Livesey added

"Money needs to be paid out as soon as possible.  If the Commission could remove the fear of fines, the Scottish Government could make an interim payment based on their best estimate, and pay the balance once all the required checks are made.  There is a real crisis within the rural sector at the moment; it's not just about farmers but the many businesses along the supply chain who are struggling with outstanding debts. The Scottish Government needs to do whatever it can to take some pressure off Scottish farmers and farm businesses."

Notes to editors

Ian Duncan is the Conservative MEP for Scotland and Chair of the ECR Policy Group on the Rural Economy.
Rob Livesey is Vice President of NFU Scotland - Contact Fay Jones –
Comments from former NFUS President Jim Walker were made in the Sunday Times Scotland on 28th February