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Further Call for Proportionality After Penalty Hikes

NFU Scotland has repeated its calls for a more proportionate penalty system after figures published by the Scottish Government revealed a huge increase in the level of penalties imposed on Scottish farmers for breaches related to various support schemes.

According to the Union, the penalty levels are now significantly out of line with the seriousness of the error leading to the need for a degree of proportionality to be factored in to penalty awards.  It is involved in discussions in Europe with the intention of securing a fairer system.

The Scottish Government was obliged to bring in new penalty arrangements for various support schemes in 2009 following a critical EU audit of the penalty system across the UK as a whole. While there was no change in what constituted a breach of the rules in 2009, compared to 2008, there was a change in how the level of penalty was calculated and this resulted in an increase in the penalty imposed.

According to the Scottish Government, the Commission’s view is that the level of penalty for any non-compliance should be three percent.   In Scotland, up until last year, minor cross compliance breaches received a warning letter or one- percent penalty.

The Union is also seeking a legal opinion on the retrospective way that the new penalties were imposed.  Many of the farms hit by higher penalty rates were inspected early in 2009 but it was not until late in 2009 that full details on the scale of the penalties associated with any breaches were confirmed.

NFU Scotland President, Jim McLaren said:

“These published figures show that between 2008 and 2009, there has been a significant increase in the size of penalties levelled at Scottish farmers.   This reflects the new approach being taken by the Scottish Government, following the critical EU Audit.   As a result, many minor infringements of EU rules on Scottish farms are now resulting in hugely disproportionate penalties being deducted from their support payments.  

“It is totally unacceptable that minor, unintentional infringements now face severe penalties where previously they incurred a letter of warning or a low level of fine.   We have written to the Agriculture and Rural Development Department of the European Commission about the level of penalties and we have made the case that proportionality must be taken into account when determining the level of fines applied to breaches of support scheme rules.  

“We are calling for the Scottish Government to also press the case with the EU on the severity of the penalty matrix and to press for a proportionate system that takes account of the realities on the ground. We need to look at alternatives, such a series of fixed penalties, that more accurately and proportionately reflect the severity of any error compared with what we have now.

“As we work towards a better penalty system, it is also worth reminding members that many of the most common breaches recorded under inspection are also the easiest to avoid. For example, the simple failure to return the passport of an animal that has died is regarded as a ‘non-rectifiable permanent off farm’ error if discovered during an inspection and immediately triggers a 3% penalty.   Regularly checking records to ensure that passport returns are up to date would be time well spent by any livestock producer.”  

Notes to editors

  • The following three tables, produced by the Scottish Government, provide details of claimants, inspections and non-compliances found during cross-compliance inspections for the 2008 and 2009 calendar years.

Summary Table

 

2008

2009

Number of Support Scheme Claimants

20235

20060

Total Number of Cross Compliance Related Inspections

2054

1704

Cross Compliance Breach Table

Cross Compliance Requirements

2008

2009

SMR1 - Conservation of wild birds

2

2

SMR2 - Protection of groundwater against pollution

37

13

SMR3 - The use of sewage sludge in agriculture

0

0

SMR4 - Protection of water in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ)

4

2

SMR5 - Conservation of Flora and Fauna

0

0

SMR6 - Identification and registration of Pigs

1

3

SMR7 - Identification and registration of Cattle (SMR7/8 for 2008)

165

346

SMR8 - Identification and registration of Sheep (SMR8a for 2008)

20

9

SMR9 - Restrictions on the use of plant protection products

21

12

SMR10 - Restrictions on the use of hormones

0

0

SMR11 - Food Law

2

2

SMR12 - Prevention and control of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSE)

0

0

SMR13 - Control of Foot and Mouth disease

0

0

SMR14 - Control of certain animal disease

0

0

SMR15 - Control of Blue Tongue

0

0

SMR16 - Welfare of calves

11

8

SMR17 - Welfare of pigs

3

2

SMR18 - Welfare of farmed animals

66

60

GAEC - Set aside management

1

N/A

GAEC1 - Post harvest management of land

0

0

GAEC2 - Wind erosion

0

0

GAEC3 - Soil capping

0

0

GAEC4 - Erosion caused by livestock

1

0

GAEC5 - Maintenance of function field drainage systems

0

0

GAEC6 - Muirburn code

0

0

GAEC7 - Arable crop rotation standards

0

0

GAEC8 - Arable Stubble management

0

0

GAEC9 - Appropriate machinery use

0

0

GAEC10 - Undergrazing

0

1

GAEC11 - Overgrazing

0

0

GAEC12 - Ploughing pasture of a high environmental/archaelogical value

1

0

GAEC13 - Protection of rough grazings/semi natural areas

6

2

GAEC14 - Application of lime and fertiliser on rough grazings/semi natural areas

1

1

GAEC15 - Field Boundaries

2

5

GAEC16 - Non-production landscape features

0

1

GEAC17 - Historic features

0

1

GAEC18 - Encroachment of unwanted vegetation

1

1

The Payment Reduction Table

Level of Payment Reduction

2008

2009

Warning Letter

75

24

1% Reduction

169

88

2% Reduction

3

1

3% Reduction

34

203

4% Reduction

1

0

5% Reduction

23

107

>5% Reduction

20

30

Total number of breaches

325

453

Total value of support payments before reductions were applied

£12,943,323.21

£31,991,672.65

Total value of support payments after reductions were applied

£12,692,435.82

£30,597,263.53

Total value of reductions

£250,887.39

£1,394,409.12

Ends

Contact Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006

 

Date Published:

News Article No.: 74/10


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