CABINET Secretary Fergus Ewing has been accused of ‘stealing money from our farmers pockets’ by the Scottish Tories rural spokesman, Peter Chapman.

Responding to Mr Ewing’s proposed breakdown of the convergence funding – to deliver £160m over two years to Scottish crofters and farmers, focusing predominantly on marginal areas and topping up the shortfall in the LFASS scheme – he labelled his actions regarding LFASS to be a ‘real scandal’.

Mr Chapman felt that the NFUS plan for spending the money was a ‘better and fairer’ model: “If this money from Westminster hadn’t arrived, he would have had to find the £13 million from Scottish Government budgets. He always said when challenged that he would ‘find a way’ or get a ‘work around’ to replace this money. If he was being fair and honest with our farmers, he would have been announcing £93 million of extra spending for our hard-pressed farmers,” he stressed. “For years he has accused Westminster of ‘stealing money from farmers pockets by not delivering the £160 million convergence fund’, now we can see he is doing exactly the same with this £13 million - stealing money from our farmers pockets!”

He went on to accuse Mr Ewing of failing to recognise the integrated nature of farming, which he stressed isn’t recognised in his plans to divvy out the convergence funds: “It appears that the cabinet secretary doesn’t understand that Orkney, Tiree and Bute to name but three areas are predominantly region 1 land. Of 1.6 million hectares of region 1 land, two-thirds is growing grass and supporting livestock. Has he learnt nothing about the crisis in our beef industry,” he questioned?

The guys who buy the store cattle and lambs off the hills and their prosperity or lack of it will be reflected in prices paid at the autumn sales. This is an industry which is completely integrated and trying to split one area from another does not work,” he concluded.

A spokesperson for cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing responded: “We will take absolutely no lectures from the Conservatives given their outrageous behaviour on this issue, and their claims are an unfounded slur – every single penny of the £80 million is going to farmers (and crofters).

“They held on to £160 million in convergence funding for Scottish farmers and crofters for six long years before finally being shamed into paying it back after sustained pressure from the SNP Scottish Government."

Mr Ewing announced on Tuesday, November 5, that a further £10m will be allocated to Scotland's most marginal areas in the first round of funding for 2019/2020 taking the total to £90m. This extra funding will be taken from the next tranche of £80m due from Westminster for the period 2020/2021 and will be supplemented by the Scottish Government budget in the meantime. The same announcement revealed Mr Ewing's plans start work on a replacement for LFASS, to be developed with the involvement of appropriate stakeholders.