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CALL TO IMPROVE MANAGEMENT OF RURAL PRIORITIES

NFU Scotland has expressed concern at the management of one of the Scottish Government's flagship funding schemes, Rural Priorities.  Whilst recognising the crucial role of the scheme for rural communities and the huge benefits secured for the environment and economy in rural areas, NFUS believes the management of the scheme requires significant improvement.  The Union has some constructive suggestions for improvement, which it is now putting to the Scottish Government.

NFUS has expressed its views in light of changes to the running of the scheme announced today by the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, Richard Lochhead. 

The changes which will affect applicants include:

  • a delay in considering any business development applications until 2011; and
  • a £250,000 cap per project for Business Development applications submitted after 2 August 2010.

In addition, NFUS has received many calls from applicants and advisers acting on their behalf expressing frustration at lengthy delays and uncertainties in the process.

The Union is calling for an overhaul in how such schemes are run, which should include a new service level agreement with applicants, better management of funding and new processes to deal quicker with smaller scale projects. NFUS has welcomed the commitment today from the Cabinet Secretary to look at the latter issue.

NFUS President Jim McLaren said:

“It is difficult to kick a scheme that has ploughed over £300 million into rural areas.  It has been a massively important injection of funds.  However, it is an inescapable fact that the administration of the scheme has not been up to scratch. 

“Applicants expect to have to jump through many hurdles to secure funding like this; after all, these are public funds so there should be a robust system to ensure value for money.  However, what is causing huge frustration amongst land managers and the experts that put together their applications, is the delay in processing applications and a ‘shifting of the goalposts’.  Expectations have been poorly managed, communication has been patchy at best and funding apparently not planned out properly.

“Today, the Scottish Government has announced that those expecting to have their business development applications looked at in October, will now have them delayed until early 2011.  That makes business planning and discussions with lenders very difficult.  To tell people of this delay in the process after they have submitted their application is not good enough.

“Whatever your views of a cap on project funding, to introduce it now is badly timed.  If money was being spent too quickly, why wasn't that anticipated?  It is difficult to understand the economic rationale behind an arbitrary cap on investment projects, irrespective of their merit.  I could happily support much tighter scrutiny of bigger projects, but this cap is simply a solution to a funding problem rather than a strengthening of the objectives of the scheme.

“I believe that the industry, together with professional advisers, needs to sit down with the Government urgently and review the administration behind this scheme.  We all want it to be the best it can be, but it is falling short of that.  The Cook review looked in to the administration of the scheme, but if anything the situation has deteriorated since that report was published. 

“We have really constructive suggestions for improvement; not least a better process for dealing with smaller projects which are currently failed by the system.  We also think there should be a service level agreement with applicants so that there is much greater certainty on timescales.  In addition, communication must improve.  The early overspend of budgets - which is the real driver of the changes announced today - has been known about for months and, if communicated earlier, could have allowed the current business development applicants at least to plan ahead.”

NOTES TO EDITORS

Ends

 

Date Published:

News Article No.: 114/10


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