Scottish farm subsidy payments
In the previous post I provided information providing information relating to dastardly attacks by Ruth (Golden Child) Davidson and her group of Gentlemen landowners on the Scottish government and Richard Lochhead the Scottish Minister for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment.
I highlighted that the Rural Payments Agency (under the Tory and Labour governments) had struggled and repeatedly failed, for many years to ensure farming subsidies were paid, in time and that the UK government, who had charge of the business had been fined nearly £700million in penalties.
Ruth Davidson and her MSP gentlemen landowners/ farmers made no reference to any of the many earlier failings of the UK government preferring to sew “seeds of discontent” through the use of a compliant television and news media.
The “straw that broke the camels back” was that Ruth Davidson’s “cries of farming crisis” had been false since the deadline for the conclusion of payments of farming subsidies was not until the end of June!!!!
In the course of my investigations I happened across an article written by Boris Johnson with added comments of like minded Tories. Ruth Davidson might be best guided by Boris since he is touted as the leader-in-waiting of the Tory Party and her next boss.
May 11, 2006 – Rural Payments Agency – Acres and acres of madness – and they call this reform – Boris Johnson
At the bottom of the garden we have a paddock, and on evenings like this I can think of no lovelier place on earth. The buds have budded. The trees are in leaf. The lambs are making a racket. The rabbits show a boldness that verges on insolence. Everywhere I look I see nature transpiring at every pore with the green joy of photosynthesis. I see the hawthorn blossom, rolling for miles in great gun-smoke clouds. I see the shade starting to lengthen from the old oak, and the lovely rickety fence, on which I sometimes balance champagne bottles and shoot them off with an airgun, and I lie down on the springy grass and look up at the pale moon in the blue sky and I breathe a sigh of deep and unchallengeable contentment.
Sometimes, you know, I just can’t believe my luck. Because it turns out that I am not only the possessor of a magnificent paddock. I am a farmer. Yes, folks, I am a Tibullan agricola. I am Marie-Antoinette. I have managed to hitch my wagon to the gravy train of the CAP and clamp my jaws about the hind teat of Defra. By virtue of possessing 0.3 hectares of grass, excluding the dilapidated outside privy, I am apparently eligible for subsidy!
You think I am mad; but read the 98-page booklet provided by the Rural Payments Agency and you will find your lungs tightening and your lips blibbering into a pant-hoot of pure amazement at the insanity of our masters.
The government – Brussels – the taxpayer – whoever – is seriously going to pay me 10 euros a year merely for being the owner of this blissful patch of grass and rabbits. I don’t have to farm it, in any meaningful sense.
I don’t even have to graze a pony, though I could. I can use it for clay pigeons. I can use it for hot-air ballooning, it says here in the pamphlet. I can organise motocross events or nature trails across the paddock. Provided I don’t do it for more than 28 days a year, I can even have car-boot sales. I can invite Billy Smart’s circus to pitch their big top in the paddock, or I can let it out as a location for television. Year after year, the cheque will come in from Brussels via Defra, 10 princely euros, as a thank you to me and my family for doing – well, for doing absolutely nothing except luxuriating in the existence of this paddock.
Weeping with laughter, I decide to ring the Rural Payments Agency to find out if I can possibly have read this right. Yes, they say, it sounds like you qualify. Yes, they say, there are plenty of people who have been given subsidy entitlements for having pony paddocks, just like the one you describe. Yes, it is OK to mow it. Yes, it is acceptable to use the land for having barbecues, playing rounders or nude sunbathing. Yes, says the Rural Payments Agency, you can have a pony paddock and attract the subsidy, without going to the trouble of having a pony. Yes, says the agency (now with a tremor of exhaustion in its voice), you are right in thinking that you are getting the money for nothing at all except keeping the land in “good environmental condition”.
Fantastic! I say. Where do I send the form? And it is only then, of course, that I discover the catch.
My paddock qualifies in every respect. This beautiful, if tiny, corner of Oxfordshire is entitled to all the dignity that goes with being a CAP-funded estate – except that, like a complete fool, I missed the deadline, in May 2005, for registering my claim. Through sheer stupidity, I failed to grasp that last year the government changed the basis on which agricultural subsidy is to be paid. Under the reforms of the CAP, farmers are no longer rewarded for growing barley or rearing suckler cows. It is the end of paying Greeks for growing acres of fictitious olives.
Under the brilliant new single farm payment, the Greeks and the rest of us are to be rewarded simply for having grown acres of fictitious olives in the past. You no longer need even to pretend to grow the olives; you simply have to show that you have title to the land and that you are keeping it in good nick, olives or no olives; and that is why the pony paddocks of England are now accompanied by EU subsidy.
If I missed the deadline, there were thousands of paddock-owners who were quicker off the mark, who whanged those forms into the Rural Payments Agency – and who caused the monumental chaos with which you will be familiar. Across Britain there are farming families who have been driven deep into debt, and farmers who have contemplated suicide, because of the government’s disastrous failure to send out the single farm payments.
They were told they could expect the payment in December; then it was February; then March; and when, by mid-March, Margaret Beckett was forced to come to the Commons and apologise, it was obvious that the system was in meltdown. And the reason it was in meltdown was at least partly because no one had predicted that the number of subsidy claimants would rise – from 80,000 to 120,000 – as the paddock-owners, the raspberry-growers, the filbert-growers and the possessors of 0.3-hectare marrow patches piled in to register their land.
And, of course, there will be some optimists who point out that the expense can’t be overwhelming, not at 10 euros a paddock. But if you look at the Rural Payments Agency booklet, you will see how ever more of our countryside is now being sucked into a bureaucratic vortex of madness.If you claim a subsidy for your orchard (as you may), you have to prove that your trees are 10 metres apart and that the trunks are one metre in circumference; and if you have more than 50 trees a hectare, you’ve got to prove to the inspector that the bases of the trees have previously been nibbled by sheep. You can grow cucumbers, cabbages and cauliflowers, but not strawberries or mint!
Think of the new legions of bureaucrats being created, who will have to check whether or not you are running your subsidised nudist colony for more than 28 days.
Forty thousand new dependants have been created! Untold acres are now under new and pointless subsidy! And they call this reform? No wonder Margaret Beckett was promoted.
The Royal family, as well as oil-rich Gulf rulers could benefit from the increased subsidies.
Thoughts on the “Rural Payments Agency”
Scottish Government: Scotland needs a CAP that supports dirty wellies and not comfy slippers, and we need to ensure only active farmers are supported under any new CAP. Scottish farmers have the lowest payments rates in Europe and it is essential that any support is directed towards genuine farmers.
* Barry D: This subsidy would be the one that Scottish farmers, Welsh farmers and Northern Irish farmers have already received. But Defra in England still hasn’t managed to send out. The money that English farmers are taking out loans to cover not getting, and of course having to pay interest they can’t recover, and have to pay the quarterly taxes demanded by Defra, the revenue et al? The shame here is not CAP, but the fact the Defra still has not shared with English farmers money sitting in Westminster coffers, attracting interest.
* Joe M: The principle by which land-owners are rewarded to the tune of +/-20 quid/year/hectare for simply owning a chunk of land is wrong. I have no problem with land ownership; I do, however, have a serious problem with a government making a payment to anyone purely for the virtue of owning an asset.
Farmers need to practice farming, not landowning. If agricultural manufacturers produce a commodity that is under subscribed and which is consequently consigned to the tip (or third world aid) that is the farmer’s problem and no-one else’s. If they lose money they should not be compensated by taxpayers money for their stupidity in making something that they couldn’t sell.
If subsidies are withdrawn some farmers may go out of business because, perhaps, the bottom falls out of the market but other farmers will take their place, and they also may go under. But eventually, the land will be farmed and operated by a person or organisation who understands market forces and consequently plants things that sell.
I believe the UK electorate to be victims of the most expensive politically motivated ponzie scheme in history. In the early years of the Common Market the sales pitch by politicians was about the betterment of the EEC and how it would provide a platform for trade in and around Europe. There would be a fee involved but, theoretically, everyone’s market would be bigger. Pretty much like paying for a pitch at the local car boot sale; bit of an outlay, but there is always the possibility of a decent return. Of course, over the years the, apparently benign, EEC has transmogrified into the EU with a common currency (which, bizarrely the UK has not adopted), more rules than you can shake a stick at and a bureaucracy that would put the Ukraine’s internal affairs department to shame.
Great Britain is no more part of Europe than Japan is part of China or Cuba is part of the US. It’s a geographic accident, nothing else. This aside, the Franco-Germanic pact for total EU domination is progressing swimmingly. Whilst I have no doubt that many febrile British diplomats and MEPs are belligerently waving their bowlers and umbrellas in consternation, there is as much chance of them making a dent in Franco-Prussian self-help policies as there is of Jose Mourhonio admitting that he’s a second rate manager (on a dollar to trophy scale).
* Stephen L: A Tory government was in power at the time “Set-Aside” (paying farmers extortionate financial subsidies not to grow stuff) was introduced in 1992?
The UK and the rest of the the EU were producing more cereals than were needed by the consumer. It was expensive to store and exporting the surplus to other world markets required significant financial subsidies costly to the taxpayer and disruptive to world trade and would undermine development of local agriculture in Third World countries.
“Set aside” was introduced as part of a programme for tackling the over production of cereals within the EU. A major review of the CAP in 1992 (MacSharry reforms) addressed over production and agreed to reduce the amount of subsidies paid to to farmers for cereals by 35% over the proceeding three years.
To help compensate farmers for their loss of income the “Arable Area Payments Scheme” was introduced. Under this scheme, farmers were able to claim support payments based on the size of the area used to grow cereals, linseeds, oilseeds and protein crops such as peas, beans and lupins. However, to qualify for these payments, all but the smallest producers were required to ‘set aside’ part of their arable land, taking it out of production.
* John D: But are there compelling reasons for subsidising the less productive type of ‘farmer’? Arguments that have been presented include:
1) We eat therefore we must support farmers because this is a vital industry.
Response: I drink beer too but if a brewery starts to lose money I don’t see that it is incumbent on me (or the government) to bail them out if they fail to produce a commodity that is in general demand. Similarly, if an energy supplier goes belly up (even more vital than food, surely)? The company is liquidated and the assets/rights purchased by another company.
2) They look after the countryside.
Response: So does the National Trust, and I would prefer it if the latter owned these vast tracts of pretty but unprofitable land. We still have to pay for the privilege of it existing but it becomes a national asset not a cash cow for some inbred dynasty and paid for out of the electorates hard earned taxes.
3) They need specialised equipment to produce different crops and these tools are expensive
Response: So do almost all companies in niche production markets. Buying this equipment is called capital risk and any purchasing decision needs to be made very carefully. Under the existing rules such decisions are less carefully made since landowners and farmers know they will be compensated anyway (even if the product generated only fetches 3p a tonne on the commodities markets).
4) “Get real. A farm with hundreds of acres can’t suddenly turn to “premium products”
Response: A farm of a few hundred acres all under carrots could probably supply an entire county. However, A farm which predominantly produces, say, potatoes, might conceivably stick a few rows of carrots in. That is, if these “alleged” farmers are in the business of ‘business’ and not ‘gentlemen farming’.
I still remain totally unconvinced about the worthiness of (arbitrary and alleged) farmers pocketing vast quantities of taxpayers cash with about the same net effect as giving it to President Mugabe.
The Queen’s Sandringham Estate received £7million in farming subsidies