NFU Scotland has warmly welcomed the recommendations of an independent review into the Agriculture Subsidy Appeals Procedure in Scotland, which proposes wholesale changes to the existing culture, structure and processes associated with the appeals process. The review delivers on a commitment made in the SNP manifesto.
The review has called for an abolition of the current three-tier mechanism and its replacement with an independent Appeals Agency. The proposed agency would deal with all appeals relating to agricultural, environmental or rural development aid schemes.
The review also highlights the need for cultural change to avoid the number of appeal cases being presented. It suggests that the constructive relationship that has previously existed between Government officials and grass roots farmers has broken down with officials now seen as policemen rather than a source of help. NFUS welcomes the recommendation that local Scottish Government officers offer more positive assistance to those claimants struggling with the plethora of scheme rules and regulations.
It also suggests that this constructive approach be extended to more simplified claim forms and a plea that any guidance that accompanies scheme forms more clearly identifies areas where compliance may be difficult.
At the launch of the review, NFU Scotland Chief Executive James Withers said:
“We wholeheartedly welcome this much needed report and the recommendations that it makes. The existing appeals procedure has been a huge source of frustration for our members with individual cases taking months and years to be resolved.
“The proposal for a new independent agency offers the potential to considerably speed up this process while retaining the option that in unresolved cases, the Land Court will remain as a last resort for settlement.
“The suggestions on changing the nature of the relationship between farmers and local government staff presents a positive way forward by looking at what has gone before. In times gone by, farmers viewed government officials as a source of help and advice when attempting to comply with various pieces of legislation. In some respects, that relationship has broken down with officials simply viewed as being the policemen tasked with ensuring compliance. This report suggests that more carrot and less stick is the route to rebuilding that relationship.
“Obviously, farmers have a responsibility to do all they can to get things right. However, backing each support scheme with simpler, more easily understood paperwork and providing more resource at a local government office level will help ensure the smoother operation of schemes and will deliver a greater level of understanding of how schemes operate and higher levels of compliance.
“The recommendations of this report offer a win-win solution for farmers and Scottish Government on the delivery of schemes and the appeals process in the future.”
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