SIR, – Well done to Andrew McCornick and Martin Kennedy for highlighting red tape and cross-compliance inspections as a cause for the growing number of farmers suffering from stress-related physical and mental health problems.

It’s not that long since Richard Lochhead was on the receiving end of exactly the same complaints about disproportionate penalties for minor record-keeping errors, the fear of inspections and the fact that his staff were not all singing from the same hymn sheet with regard to flexibility, including the application of common sense.

It only seems like yesterday since Brian Pack’s ‘Doing better’ recommendations for reducing red tape were published, with his vision for a government IT system that would simplify the process of subsidy and grant applications.

The reality for too many farmers has been the worry and stress of late payments of lifeline subsidies because of a SGRIPD IT system that is not fit for purpose. Pack envisaged that ScotEID would provide a reliable, electronic database of sheep movements.

Last year, our own ScotEID records showed movements of someone else’s sheep. ScotEID eventually corrected the error. This year, the records showed our Kelso tups going off farm and returning on the same day. The ScotEID database is certainly full of surprises, but reliable?

It adds to the stress, because it’s the farmer’s responsibility to ensure that his/her own ScotEID information is accurate, not least because it’s included in an inspection.

The Pack recommendations didn’t include the ewe hogg scheme because it didn’t exist, but if someone set out to invent the most unfair scheme to maximise red tape, risk and stress for the folk on the most disadvantaged hill farms, the ewe hogg scheme would be what they came up with. It should have been strangled at birth.

The miniscule amount of red tape that may have been removed during Lochhead’s time was rapidly replaced and now the CabSec is planning another red tape review with the obligatory advisory group. Women and young people have been appointed which ticks the ‘inclusive’ boxes, but there’s no indication of whether any of the advisers have experienced the nightmare of a full sheep count resulting from minor tagging errors in the preliminary eartag check.

Have any of the group experienced the sleepless nights of a full sheep inspection, with the mind playing the worst-case scenarios over and over? Does the advisory panel include a bewildered farmer or crofter who’s been penalised because his wintering hoggs were moved from the field they were supposed to be in?

Those are the people with the appropriate experience to advise the CabSec and if there are none in the new advisory group, what’s the point of it?

By the way, what happens to the penalty money that’s deducted from payments? Does it go back to Brussels, or into ScotGov’s coffers? Was perchance the £200,000 that was recently found for lamb promotion funded by cross-compliance penalties? If so, what’s being done with the remainder? We should be told.

As for red tape reduction, the best that can be hoped for is a few minor tweaks. Then it’s business as usual and in a year or two it’ll be Groundhog Day all over again.

Mrs Maimie Paterson,

Upper Auchenlay,