The Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform, and Islands, Mairi Gougeon, has announced the return of £15m to the rural portfolio in the 2024-25 budget. The cash will be available for ‘capital priorities’ where the Cabinet Secretary states the ‘greatest need exists.’

Addressing the Rural Committee at the Scottish Parliament, the North Angus and Mearns MSP said: “Members of the committee have rightly taken a keen interest in the ring-fenced money due to return to the portfolio. I welcome the return of the first tranche of £15m of this funding in the 2024-25 budget.”

However, the announcement has received a tepid response from the industry.

Shadow rural affairs secretary Rachael Hamilton MSP said: “Mairi Gougeon’s boasts about £15m, which is just a fraction of the total £61m funding being returned to the Scottish agriculture budget were straight from the SNP’s playbook of shameless spin.

“Farmers, crofters and rural Scotland have been used as an easy target by SNP-Green ministers for cuts all too often.

“Shona Robison’s disastrous budget has once again earmarked a reduction in the rural affairs budget, so returning this tranche of already ring-fenced money is hardly great cause for celebration for the rural sector.”

NFUS president Martin Kennedy was similarly sceptical, saying: “This evidence session delivers as much confusion as clarity and Scotland’s farmers and crofters are none the wiser as to when all of the £61m of deferred funding will be returned to the agricultural budget, as promised.

“The Cabinet Secretary provided details on how £15m of the £61m of deferred agriculture funding will come back through capital schemes such as the Agricultural Transformation Fund and the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme.

“That has generated confusion in that those same capital schemes, under the draft budget announced by the Scottish Government in December, were to be cut,” said Mr Kennedy.

“If deferred funds are to be returned through this route, then it is absolutely essential that the schemes are simple and accessible. Underspend identified in some current schemes can be directly attributed to unnecessary hoops and red tape that applicants are required to comply with.

“Our position remains unchanged. Providing adequate support to, and investment in, the agricultural sector right now would deliver a clear signal that the Scottish Government is genuinely committed to the long-term future of the country’s primary producers in our endeavours to produce high quality food, address climate change, and support biodiversity recovery.

“The Scottish Government still has the opportunity over the coming weeks to do the right thing in its finalised budget.”