A Scottish Government programme set up to deliver complex agricultural reforms and financial support to rural workers has serious cost and operational issues.
Audit Scotland has published its fourth update on the progress of the five-year Futures programme, an IT and business change scheme started in 2012 to deliver European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reforms.
The CAP provides financial support to farmers, crofters and rural businesses.
The CAP Futures Programme was supposed to minimise financial penalties for non-compliance with EC regulations, and was originally estimated to cost £102million. It now has a budget of £178million and a reduced scope, and funds could run out before the system meets EC regulations, resulting in penalties of up to £125million.
Caroline Gardner, Auditor General for Scotland, said: “The CAP Futures programme has been beset with difficulties from the start. These problems, and the way they have been dealt with by the Scottish Government, are a serious concern, particularly as the programme continues to face major obstacles and is unlikely to deliver value for money.
“The scale of the challenge ahead should not be underestimated. It’s vital that the Scottish Government take steps now to ensure the IT system is fit for purpose, and fully assess the potential financial impact if it’s unable to meet the Commission’s regulations within the programme’s remaining budget.”
Mark Ruskell, Environment and Rural Affairs spokesperson for the Scottish Greens and MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, gave this reaction: “Tens of thousands of people are employed in farming in Scotland, and the IT shambles that we have seen has been inexcusable. Food producers and other agricultural businesses rely on public funding and for some time the Scottish Government has known that the IT system was a risk.
“To date only three quarters of basic payments have been issued. Given the importance of food and farming to Scotland’s economy this issue should have been a higher priority for government, and I hope this audit report makes clear the need for lessons to be learned.”