WITH THE twin clouds of Covid-19 and Brexit looming over the country, it might have slipped some people's attention that there are Scottish Parliamentary elections scheduled for May 2021.

However, the date is clearly burning bright in the minds of MSPs, with a rash of political point-scoring signalling the start of what is likely to be a hard-fought campaign between the incumbent SNP administration and the Scottish Conservatives.

This week, the Scots Tory convenor of Holyrood's cross-party Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, Edward Mountain, sought to revive an SNP sore point of years gone by, asserting that 'questions remain' over ScotGov's CAP computer system and the RPID staffing levels that sustain it.

In a REC committee meeting, Mr Mountain asked: “I just had a question on the CAP IT system, is it working correctly and have all the faults that were identified in the Fujitsu report been rectified?"

Addressing rural economy cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing, he continued: "In June this year you confirmed in a Ministerial Statement that there were 385 staff working out of the 17 offices to deliver on the CAP payments. But then in a parliamentary question answered just this week, you said there were 441. How many staff are actually required and if CAP IT is working as it is, are there any cost savings that could be made in the delivery of it?”

Although stopping short of accusing Mr Mountain of mischief-making, ScotGov has since retorted that the 385 figure quoted was in respect of Area Office staff only and did not include head office staff – a distinction that the Cabinet Secretary had already made clear in his statement to Parliament.

“Rural Secretary Fergus Ewing is writing to the committee convenor to correct his misunderstanding of the figures and point out that drawing conclusions about the performance of the Rural Payments and Services system from the number of staff employed in teams that do much more than process payments is not meaningful. Performance against our payment targets is a much more meaningful measure where vast improvements have been seen year-on-year.

“We have already paid over £0.5 billion 2019 CAP and historic convergence payments. This includes issuing £87.88 million in convergence funding as promised by the end of March – as part of the first tranche of a £160 million package won from the UK Government to right the historic wrong."