Section D: Administration, Control, and Transparency of Payment Framework Data
The consultation paper discussed several proposals relating to administration, control, and transparency of payment framework data, including:
- That Scottish Ministers take the powers to set an annual and/or multi-annual budget to support the proposed future support framework and enable intervention for the purposes of supporting high quality food production, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and nature restoration.
- The Scottish Ministers take the power to set up an Integrated Administration and control System (IACS), which includes an area monitoring system, a system for the identification of beneficiaries, and more.
- That Scottish Ministers take the power to collect information for the purposes of carrying out management, control, audit and monitoring and evaluation obligations and for statistical purposes.
- That Scottish Ministers take the power to gain independent assurance that objectives are being met.
- That Scottish Ministers take the power to enable the publication of details pertaining to recipients who receive payments and set a level above which payment details will be published.
- That Scottish Ministers have the power to amend retained EU law for CAP legacy schemes as needed to ensure their continued effective operation and regulation until they expire and also to ensure Scottish Ministers have flexibility to better respond to current, post EU exit, circumstances.
Administration, Control, and Transparency of Payment Framework Data
Tables 36-40 (Appendix 3) provide the frequency tables to questions on administration, control, and transparency of payment framework data. Below is a summary of results among those who responded to these questions:
- 81% of respondents agreed that Scottish Ministers should have the power to create a system that provides for an integrated database, to collect information in relation to applications, declarations and commitments made by beneficiaries of rural support, while 7% disagreed. Organisational respondents (90%) displayed higher levels of agreement than individuals (75%).
- 79% of respondents agreed that Scottish Ministers should have the power to create a system that collects and shares information for the purposes of carrying out management control, audit and monitoring and evaluation obligations and for various statistical purposes, subject to GDPR requirements. 8% disagreed.
- 66% of respondents agreed that Scottish Ministers should have the power to share information where there is a public interest in doing so, and subject to complying with GDPR, while 18% disagreed.
- 83% of respondents agreed that Scottish Ministers should have the power to create a system that provides the data required to undertake administrative checks on applications/claims made by beneficiaries for rural support, while 6% disagreed.
Many respondents felt that powers to create a system that provides for an integrated database would be useful in monitoring and reporting progress. They stated that relevant funding should be allocated to carry out effective monitoring and evaluation of all farm support payments, establish baseline data, assess impacts and outcomes and report on progress.
Several respondents noted that the proposed system sounded like the current IACS (Integrated Administration and Control System), and that, if not wholly re-used or built on, it would make sense for any future system to be designed in a similar format.
Ultimately, it was believed that such a system, whether old or new, should be secure, transparent, and user friendly – and not bound by red tape.
Meanwhile, many emphasised a need for constructive use of a system that collects and shares information for the purposes of carrying out management, control, audit and monitoring and evaluation obligations and for statistical purposes. They felt it important to monitor the ‘big picture’, avoid becoming overly prescriptive about processes and minor infractions, and use data to encourage positive outcomes.
Powers to share information where there is a genuine public interest in doing so, and subject to complying with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), were deemed important. Some responses stated that the immediate sharing of important information – such as that around disease outbreaks – would be imperative for relevant authorities, local communities and the wider public. The sharing of information relating to animal welfare standards – and any resulting penalties, for instance, was also deemed important:
"Data protection is only useful where it is an asset to society. The type of data being discussed would not impinge on an individuals rights. For example, if we suffer from another foot and mouth epidemic relevant authorities need to know immediately, as do the local rural communities" – [Individual, Other].
There were, however, concerns around a lack of clarity on the meaning of ‘public interest’, in that this term is too flexible could be open to interpretation and political manoeuvring. There were also calls more certainty on what types of information would be protected by GDPR.
Power to create a system that provides a mechanism that aligns with the principles of the Scottish Public Finance Manual
The majority (73%) of respondents who answered this question agreed that Scottish Ministers should have the power to create a system that provides a mechanism that aligns with the principles of the Scottish Public Finance Manual, while 6% disagreed. This was higher among organisational respondents (80%) than individuals (69%).
Many responses agreed that the creation of a system that aligns with the principles of the Scottish Public Finance Manual (SPFM) appeared to be a cost-effective way of achieving the principles set out in the SPFM.
It was felt that public funds provided to businesses should be properly handled, reported on, and audited, and therefore a suitably equipped system is crucial. Again, there were calls for the successful elements of existing systems to be utilised a much as possible.
While others were supportive of this, there was the caveat that the principles should apply across all strands of such a system, including outcomes:
“Do remember that economy, efficiency, and effectiveness have to apply to the results/outcomes and not just the administrative process - after all if the results/outcomes are not achieved, then no matter how efficient the administrative process, all the money spent has been wasted” [Individual, Other]
Around two-thirds (67%) of respondents agreed that Scottish Ministers should have the power to create a system whereby on-the-spot-checks should be undertaken to further verify applications/claims made by beneficiaries for rural support, while 17% disagreed. Organisational respondents were more likely to agree (79%) than individual respondents (58%).
Responses were generally positive surrounding checks to verify applications/claims for support. Such checks were seen as instrumental to ensure appropriate use of public money. However, most responses voiced conditional support of checks, subject to a host of caveats.
Where supported, responses recommended specific, light-touch checks, with advance notice given.
“Spot checks are OK in principle, but the farm businesses need to be clear what the purpose and scope of the inspection is and what is expected of them” [Organisation, Other]
One of the main objections was to on-the-spot checks, which many felt were unproductive. Some responses highlighted that the threat of on-the-spot checks would increase stress and strain on farmers, worsening mental health. On a practical level, a few responses underscored the preparation that is often required for spot checks to be productive, which would require at least few days’ notice to ensure.
“On-the-spot checks put farmers under a lot of pressure which can affect their mental health and well-being. At least 48hrs notice should be given to farmers prior to an inspect for applications and claims” [Individual, Farmer – Owner occupied]
Another objection stemmed from the priority of on-the-spot-checks checks: whether this centred around a desire to provide assistance and advice to farmers or to catch them out for minor infractions of rules and provide punishment. In general, responses opposed a policing and punishing element of spot checks, preferring checks that provide resources to aid knowledge transfer, with minor, proportional enforcement.
Additionally, some responses saw on-the-spot-checks checks as another administrative hurdle for businesses, one that would likely cost more money to administer than provided value.
Cross compliance, conditionality, outcome measurement and publication of recipients
Tables 42-46 (Appendix 3) provide the frequency tables to questions on administration, control, and transparency of payment framework data. Below is a summary of results among those who responded to these questions:
· 71% of respondents agreed that Scottish Ministers should have the power to create a system that would provide for cross compliance, conditionality that covers core standards in relation to sustainable environment, climate, Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC), land, public and animal health, plant health and animal welfare, soil health, carbon capture and maintenance. 12% disagreed and 17% did not know.
· 79% of respondents agreed that Scottish Ministers should have the power to create a system that provides a mechanism to support the delivery of practices aligned to the receipt of elective payments for targeted outcomes, while 7% disagreed.
· 87% of respondents believe that Scottish Ministers should have the power to monitor and evaluate outcomes to ensure they meet the agreed purpose and help better inform future policy, while 5% do not.
· 67% of respondents believe that Scottish Ministers should have the power to seek independent assurance that outcomes are delivered appropriately, while 10% disagreed.
· 57% of respondents agreed that Scottish Ministers should have the power to enable the publication of details pertaining to recipients of payments, including under the future payment model, and set a level above which payment details will be published. 21% disagreed and 22% did not know.
When it comes to monitoring systems, most responses generally agreed that the proposed systems added value, enabling needed transparency in use of government funds. It is also important to note that, as above, many believed these systems were already in existence, and that existing systems should be utilised where possible.
However, many also expressed concern with the added complexity of such a system, which could become excessively bureaucratic and costly. To avoid this potentiality, some mentioned that measurement of indicators for the system on cross compliance would need to be specific, measurable and evidence based, for such as system’s recommendations to be effective.
In discussing a mechanism to support delivery of practices aligned to receipt of elective payments, responses iterated their desires for these payments. Specifically, they advocated for achievable targets, tailored to the unique situation of each farm/croft, to enable accessibility. Some also promoted that these payments be conditional on results:
“we want to see an outcomes-based approach to elective-type payments’…‘to ensure that outcomes sought can be achieved through the changes being implemented” [Organisation ,Land manager]
Other questions in this section focused on Scottish Minister’s powers to monitor and evaluate outcomes of this policy, whether Scottish Ministers should have the power to seek independent assurance that outcomes are delivered appropriately, and whether Scottish Ministers should have the power to enable to publication of details pertaining to recipients of payments under the future payment level.
In response to these questions, common themes emerge around the principles used by respondents who support these measures. Respondents focus on evaluation as a vital part of any policy learning process, and view evaluation as important to justify investment. However, this support is caveated by calls for detail on what measures will be used as performance indicators in the evaluation process, and what degree of flexibility will be given to small farmers and crofters who may struggle to meet targets every year due to factors outside their control, e.g.: adverse weather conditions.
“Effective monitoring and evaluation is vital to understand where further improvements are needed and that the expected changes are underway.” [Organisation, Third Sector]
“We believe that monitoring and evaluation are very important parts of any future framework because it is vital that the government is able to continually assess the degree to which the framework is delivering against the objectives. An important element of this is having clear objectives and targets at the outset and unfortunately, the Vision does not provide sufficient precision.”’ [Organisation, Community Representative]
Respondents cited transparency and accountability as key reasons for supporting the publication of payment recipient data and the use of independent assurances by the Scottish Government in the evaluation process. In connection with the points above, some respondents argue that there is no reason to set a minimum level of payment before data is published. All money allocated, even in small amounts, is public money and in order to be fully transparent all payments should be published.
Some respondents displayed distrust both of government and ‘independent experts’ as evaluators. Several stated that Scottish Ministers had lacked the scientific knowledge necessary for this type of evaluation, but some others were also concerned that ‘independent experts’ may be a euphemism for lobbying interests. Additionally, there are concerns about the details of how funding will be allocated to any independent evaluators, suggesting more details are required as to how any possible tendering processes would work.
“I'm not sure what 'independent' means here. Vested interests could manipulate their image to appear independent, as think tanks sometimes do. And if these independent voices don't have the best interests of Scotland, its farmers and agricultural industry and communities at heart, their advice could be flawed or biased.” [Individual, Other]
Regarding the collection of monitoring data, several more specific concerns were raised about anonymity of farmers, commercial confidentiality, and this provision possibly dissuading people from using the scheme.
“We disagree with this as we don’t know what value this adds. The danger is that the publication of details misses the full context and demonises farmers, without demonstrating the full social and environmental benefits of farming. Danger that lack of context around value for money for climate change, food production, landscape management, employment are completely missed with a list of this type. This presents danger to the Scottish government as well as rural businesses.” [Organisation, other]
Overall, across all proposed methods of evaluation, a few respondents argued that these evaluation processes would be costly and bureaucratic.
CAP legacy schemes and retained EU law
Around two-thirds (65%) of respondents agreed that technical fixes should be made to the Agriculture and Retained EU Law and Data (Scotland) Act 2020 to ensure Scottish Ministers have all requisite powers to allow CAP legacy schemes and retained EU law to continue to operate and be monitored and regulated and also to ensure Scottish Ministers have flexibility to better respond to current, post exit, circumstances. 11% disagreed and 24% said that they did not know.
The statistics above demonstrate majority support for making technical changes to Agriculture and Retained EU Law and Data (Scotland) Act 2020 to allow continuity and flexibility to act in this area. Several open responses stated that the question could not be answered without more detail on what these ‘technical fixes’ would entail.
Open responses in favour of this proposal typically did not expand much on their reasoning for this answer beyond the reasoning provided in the question and often simply stated this was ‘common sense’. A few however discussed the importance of maintaining high standards, such as compliance with AECS in Scotland.
“Scottish Ministers should be able to retain EU law and to respond to any other circumstances or issues arising from the UK leaving the EU.” [Organisation, Third Sector (including charities)]
“Scotland should keep pace with or exceed any improvements in EU Environmental standards and not regress.” [Organisation, Third sector (including charities)]
However, responses opposing technical fixes to allow continuity with EU law were more forthcoming in their reasoning. Several respondents fundamentally disagreed with the CAP and therefore did not see any benefits in ensuring continuity with EU law.
The EU agricultural policy was widely acknowledged to be a disaster. So why would you want to perpetuate it? [Individual, Farmer – Owner Occupied]
Several respondents argued that allowing Scotland to make its own laws on Agriculture to fit its own context allowed more flexibility and better policy making than technical fixes to existing law.
Several respondents noted that Scotland is no longer in the EU and therefore should align itself with UK policy rather than the European Union in future.
There is a problem
Thanks for your feedback