South Scotland SNP MSP Paul Wheelhouse has backed the Scottish Government’s Rural Secretary Fergus Ewing in calling for EU funding guarantees to be extended by the UK government in the aftermath of the Brexit vote.
The call for extension comes after the UK government only guaranteed certain levels of expenditure over a certain time period – with the Scottish Government calling for this funding to be extended to cover at least £300 million of Common Agricultural Policy funding delivered through Scotland’s Rural Development Programme (SRDP) and £60 million of European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) money. There is considerable doubt that this will be able to be agreed by the Autumn Statement for commitments running to 2020.
Commenting, Hawick-based MSP Mr Wheelhouse said: “European Union funding is vital to our rural communities and rural economy as a whole – and it is imperative that the UK government commits to maintaining current levels of investment that are under threat following Brexit.
“Many local schemes, including youth projects like Stable Life and Eyemouth High School’s Transition Project, Tourism projects like the Upper Tweed Railway Paths project, support for local businesses such as Breadshare and Selkirk’s Pop Up Shops, to name but a few, rely on this.
“The subsidies also help to support farmers and fishermen across my constituency and help boost our rural economies as a whole by helping through diversification and to create and sustain jobs in the area. SRDP funding is vital for conservation work too and the work of conservationists, estate workers, ghillies and gamekeepers across the region. The guarantees the UK government have made so far have removed some uncertainty, but they by no means go far enough.
“I and my colleague, Christine Grahame MSP, are backing the Scottish Government’s call for Westminster to go further in its commitment and to guarantee the £360 million of funding that remains uncertain. The funding is vital for our rural communities and the Tory government must provide them with the clarity and certainty that rural Scotland desperately needs.”
Mr Wheelhouse is also calling on UK Tory environment minister Andrea Leadsom to retract statements calling for vital support for farmers to be abolished. Ms Leadsom has written on her blog that “(farm) subsidies must be abolished” and an organisation she co-founded – the Fresh Start Project – recommended that “The direct payments to farmers in Pillar 1 of the CAP should be phased out.”
Mr Wheelhouse added: “Comments like this from a Tory farming minister must be the last thing farmers want to hear in the aftermath of the Brexit vote. I have always maintained the biggest threat to vital payments to our farmers comes from the Tory Government and its seemingly ideological aversion to public funding support for farming, and local farmers here will feel betrayed and misled.”