Union Pushes For Proportionate Penalties

SCOTLAND, UK - National Farmers' Union Scotland (NFUS) is alarmed that new penalty arrangements for those found to have breached rules relating to Single Farm Payments (SFP) are now significantly out of line with the seriousness of the error and is calling for the Scottish Government to re-introduce proportionality into penalty awards.
calendar icon 4 December 2009
clock icon 3 minute read

The Scottish Government has been in discussion with the European Commission about the level of penalties that should be applied following any breach identified during a farm inspection. For any breaches discovered during livestock inspections that took place in the past 12 months, Scottish farmers are only now being told what penalty will be imposed on their Single Farm Payment.

While there is no change in what constitutes a breach of the rules in 2009, compared to 2008, there is a change in how the level of penalty is calculated. This has resulted in an increase in the level of penalty imposed.

The reason given for the change is that European auditors were highly critical of the relatively low level of payment reductions being applied across the UK. According to the Scottish Government, the Commission’s view is that the level of penalty for non-compliance should be three percent. In Scotland, up until now, most cross compliance penalties have fallen into the one percent category.

The Union plans to continue its long-running discussion on penalty rates with the Scottish Government, will visit Europe on the issue in the near future and is investigating penalty systems being used in other UK and EU countries to ensure Scottish farmers are not being unfairly treated.

NFU Scotland President, Jim McLaren said:  "In the past few days, NFU Scotland has received many phone calls from members horrified at the level of penalties being imposed on their SFP following livestock inspections earlier in the year. Given the low number of errors found during the majority of those inspections, the penalties being deducted under the Scottish Government's new penalty regime appear grossly disproportionate.

"This issue has been rumbling about for almost a year. During that time, we have been pressing the Scottish Government to find a way to ensure that we retain a penalty system that is proportionate.

"Instead, we have a penalty system where a single error, regardless of a farm's size or the number of livestock in the business, can bring about a three percent deduction from its SFP. We have told the Scottish Government that we do not support the change in penalties and we are convinced that the number of animals on any unit must be taken into account.

"Given that this decision has apparently been driven by EU auditors, we will be taking up the issue up with the European Commission, pointing out the disproportionate nature of what has been imposed on Scottish farmers. In addition, we are currently investigating how penalties are imposed in other parts of the UK and Europe.

"In the meantime, I repeat the advice which I issued earlier this year. These higher penalty rates make it even more imperative that every Scottish farmer goes through their livestock records with a fine tooth comb and ensures that everything is correct and balanced with the records held by British Cattle Movement Society. It will be financially worthwhile to take a day out from normal farming activities to make sure records are in tiptop shape. This should be completed, and any errors rectified, before the business is informed of any inspection."

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