MORE than £45 million is set to be slashed from the rural budget as the Scottish Government faces up to ‘tough choices’ in a move that has been branded “out of touch” by an opposition MSP.

In a letter from Deputy First Minister Shona Robison to Holyrood’s Finance Committee, she said “Our public finances continue to face significant challenges.”

Ms Robison pointed to inflationary pressures including public sector pay for the move which will see almost £400m of budget cuts across the board.

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Agricultural support in the form of a number of schemes including AECs and Pillar 1 will be slashed by more than £21m, with £8m cut from the agricultural reform programme after scope for reduced spend was identified.

As news of the cuts filtered through the audience at AgriScot, one audience member challenged Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon on the funding situation.

Responding, Ms Gougeon said the money would be returned to the portfolio in the future. However, the audience member said this is what the industry had “been told the last time” and the money had not been returned.

Scottish Forestry and Forestry and Land Scotland will take a hit of £9m. The letter from Ms Robison said the £3m from Scottish Forestry would come from “reduced forecasts from demand led schemes.”

Agricultural support related to EU income had been cut by £2m. The letter states “Greater income than originally anticipated on rural schemes with funding from the European Union.”

Scottish Conservative shadow rural affairs spokesperson Rachael Hamilton slammed the move.

She said: “Shona Robison has failed to give our agriculture sector any sort of guarantee when millions of funding will be returned to their budget.

“It is typical of this out-of-touch SNP-Green government that it is our agriculture sector who have been earmarked for funding cuts, despite the huge pressures facing them.

“This is the last thing they need when they have been devastated by floods, the global cost-of-living crisis, and the legacy of the Covid pandemic.

“These cuts demonstrate the SNP-Green Government’s total lack of commitment to supporting our rural and island communities. Decisions like these are directly to blame for the unprecedented levels of rural and island depopulation we are seeing.

“The SNP-Green government repeatedly neglects our rural and remote communities across Scotland and is increasingly asking them to do their crucial work with one hand tied behind their backs.

“Our hardworking farmers and crofters will have been watching the SNP’s Finance Secretary’s statement in a state of despair. The onus is on Shona Robison to urgently guarantee when this huge sum of money will be restored to the agriculture budget, which should be as soon as possible.”