Secretary of State Michael Gove has announced that an independent advisory panel is to look at how agriculture funding between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be divided up once that responsibility passes from Brussels to Westminster.
The review will be led by Lord Bew of Donegore, who was chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life for five years, joined by representatives from each devolved administration. The panel’s remit suggests that farm numbers and farm sizes will be taken into account, alongside each country’s individual circumstances, including environmental, agricultural and socio-economic factors.
The panel will also provide recommendations for how the annual amount of convergence funding should be split between the four countries once the UK has left the Common Agricultural Policy – a process which will be ‘informed’ by previous allocations, but which will pointedly not revisit these decisions or redistribute money that has already been committed.
Earlier this week Mr Gove guaranteed that Scotland’s agricultural funding will not be diminished by the ‘Barnett Formula’ after Brexit. Speaking in a House of Commons debate on the UK Government’s proposed agriculture bill, Mr Gove explicitly declared that the notorious formula – used to allocate all other public spending on the basis of the human population of each of the UK’s devolved nations – would not be applied to the farm support budget, where it would effectively half what Scotland currently gets via the EU.
“I can guarantee that agricultural funding will not be Barnettised, and the generous – rightly generous – settlement that gives Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales more than England will be defended,” said Mr Gove. “More than that, I underline in particular the fact that we provide for all UK farmers a greater guarantee of future funding than farmers anywhere else in the European Union enjoy. Our funding is guaranteed until 2022, whereas in the EU the current common agricultural policy is guaranteed only to 2020. UK farmers have greater financial certainty than farmers anywhere else in Europe,” he said.
Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell added: “Under the present arrangements, Scotland receives twice as much money for farming support than might be expected were the Barnett formula alone to be used. The commitment that future agriculture funding will not simply be Barnettised should be welcomed across the board.”
But the caveat to ‘not revisit’ past convergence allocations stuck in NFU Scotland’s throat: “It remains the unequivocal view of NFUS that the UK was awarded the convergence uplift in 2013, under reform of the CAP, as a result of Scotland’s very low payment rate per hectare. As a consequence, the UK is in the process of receiving an extra €223 million (or about £190 million) over a six-year period.
“Successive commitments have been given by UK Ministers that a review of the internal allocation of UK CAP funding could be started once each of the devolved administrations had implemented the new CAP. This announcement is long overdue. Whilst it is an important step forward in recognising that there is an equitable intra-UK allocation of domestic farm support funding to the end of this parliament, it is bitterly disappointing that the review will not redress the funding which Scottish farmers and crofters have lost out on since this decision was implemented in 2014.”