Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing MSP has written to UK Secretary of State Michael Gove MP to express his disappointment over the lack of co-operation in a review of how £190 million of EU Convergence Payments to farmers was allocated back in 2013. The UK Tory Government received these monies to pass on to Scottish farmers, to bring their per-hectare payments up to the EU average.
Farmers in England and Wales were not eligible, because they were already paid a higher rate.
However, instead of passing on the £190 million to Scottish farmers who were entitled to it and should have benefitted, the Tories gave £160 million to farmers in England and Wales. Only £30 million (15.8%) made it to Scotland.
After dragging its heels, the UK Government succumbed to pressure to hold a review, which was delayed. It has now started and yet Mr Gove refuses to release relevant information to allow his department’s actions to be properly investigated. The full text of Mr Ewing’s letter to Mr Gove is:
“Thank you for your letter of 31 May concerning my request that the UK Government share ministerial advice with the Intra-UK Allocations review panel, in particular that which relates to the UK Government’s convergence allocation decision in 2013. Thank you also for sharing your reply to Lord Bew on the same subject.
“It is once again disappointing, that despite your assurances to both myself and Scottish stakeholders that you would release relevant information, you now refuse my and Lord Bew’s very reasonable request.
“One of the reasons you give for not releasing this information is that it is outside the scope of the terms of reference of the review. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that the Scottish Government has always taken issue with the greatly watered-down remit of the review, and specifically, the fact that it doesn’t cover the 2013 decision on the allocation of convergence monies.
“In 2013, then Secretary of State, Owen Paterson only promised a mid-term review as a sop for the UK Government’s decision not to allocate the full convergence uplift to Scotland. The Scottish Government then had to continually press the UK Government to uphold its promise. Now three years later and the promised review is, in my opinion, restricted and lacking all the evidence it needs to make well informed recommendations.
“In fact, one could suggest, that UKG have deliberately set this review up as a panel, rather than an inquiry, to ensure it would not have a legal framework or powers to request information from Government. Thus meaning, UKG would not be legally bound to share any previous advice to Ministers.
“While I do believe Lord Bew and the panel will do their utmost to provide a fair and balanced report, I feel the UK Government has done everything possible to hinder such an outcome. Returning to your letter, I consider this latest impediment to be a breach of promise on both the convergence review and the failure to provide the advice.”
Kenneth Gibson MSP added:
“The games played by the Tories to cover their tracks are outrageous and insulting. Now that the SNP Government has pushed the UK Government into finally holding a review of this unacceptable course of action, it is important that the panel has access to all available information. It is also important that it is free from UK Government interference, enabling it to make recommendations about what action should be considered to address concerns about past funding allocations.
“It is unsurprising yet disappointing that Lord Bew’s Review is not being given access to all the relevant information to enable it to produce a fair and balanced report. Sadly, this treatment and the whole affair are symptomatic of the way the Tories see Scotland; a prized possession, a resource, a mere cash cow.
“Scotland cannot have its interests trampled over like this. This is not a partnership of equals. We can only ever achieve that as an independent country.”