Farming Subsidies

Ross Finnie, the Minister for Environment and Rural Development, made an interesting announcement on Wednesday. He said that the Scottish Executive would in future disclose who got what in agricultural subsidies under the new Single Farm Payment Scheme. This follows a similar announcement in England. Click here to see the press release.

This is very welcome news since for many years, we’ve been told a lot about the public benefits that the Common Agricultural Policy delivers but have never been able to know who is delivering what benefits in return for what cash. With the new Freedom of Information Act, such secrecy becomes hard to defend.

There remains one thing still to be done. As the Advice Note from the Scottish Executive states: –

3. Establishing entitlements
We will send you a claim form in March 2005. This will show the number of entitlements you have and their value. To participate in the SFPS 2005 you must complete and return the claim form and submit an Integrated Administration Control System (IACS) Aid Application 2005 detailing all the land (arable and forage including all seasonal land) you farm on 15 May 2005 in the United Kingdom as a separate IACS business. We must receive both forms by 16 May 2005.

The IACS forms include a map of the land to which the subsidy relates. I’ve been trying for years to get hold of this information but it’s always been denied. I’ve thus written to Ross Finnie to ask whether the public can details of the land to which subsidies relate so that they can assess for themselves the value for money delivered by the subsidies that are paid from their taxes. I will report on any result I receive.

Predictably the farming lobby is suspicious. The NFU released this statement. The Scottish Farmer Journal has condemned the proposals as “another attempt by petty, narrow-minded Labour administrations (up to their necks in sleaze both at Holyrood and at Westminster) to bring those so-called Tory-supporting country-folk to heel. In their editorial they don’t explain exactly what these sleaze allegations are. They also do not reflect on the fact that it was a Lib Dem Minister who made these announcements. Vast parts of rural Scotland vote Lib Dem (borders, Argyll, North East, Orkney, Shetland etc.). A farming journalist, Andrew Arbuckle has just become an MSP. So it’s ridiculous to talk of Tory-supporting country folk.

The editorial suggests that social security payments should therefore also be disclosed. Not only are these not administered by the Scottish Executive, the amounts available are already made public.

Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise publish details of subsidies given to other private businesses. Why should farm businesses be any different? The Inland Revenue publish details of inheritance tax exemptions complete with maps to show the public the benefits that are being delivered. Again, why should farmers be treated any differently.

Farm subsidies represent substantial sums of money handed over to private businesses to provide an alleged public benefit. It’s only right that we should have access to the information on who gets what, where and what for in order to enable us to make our own judgement as to whether this is money well spent.