Publication - Progress report

Rural Development Operational Committee (RDOC): programme progress report

Published: 12 Aug 2021

A progress report for the Rural Development Operational Committee (RDOC).

Published:
12 Aug 2021
Rural Development Operational Committee (RDOC): programme progress report

Index

  1. RDOC Actions/issues log
  2. Programme update
  3. Programme monitoring
  4. Communications
  5. Finance
  6. Error rate action plan

Actions/issues log

Action* Timetable for action Action status
Amend Citizens Summary to correct name to NatureScot. Immediate Done.
Amend scheme update table to include cooperation project figures Immediate Done.

* It was agreed at the November 2020 meeting that prior actions and issues had been cleared. The log has been updated to reflect this and includes new actions arising from the November 2020 meeting.

Programme update

Partnership agreement 

  • delivery of the European Social Fund (ESF) and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) programmes have continued to be delivered against the respective Operational Programmes
  • MA submitted an application to the European Commission to invoke Article 87 ‘Force Majeure’ which was successful for both the ESF and ERDF programmes
  • the ERDF programme was lifted from suspension on 18 December 2020. ESF is currently in suspension but awaiting outcome of Audit Authority to confirm lifting
  • on 19 November 2020, the Scottish Government announced its proposals for replacement funding. The "Scottish Shared Prosperity Fund" would ensure Scotland’s distinctive needs and priorities are met, with a key focus on addressing and reducing economic and social disparity
  • on 9 December 2020, the Managing Authority hosted an online event for stakeholders to celebrate the 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) programmes

EU exit/future issues

  • on 23 December 2020 the Commission introduced Regulation (EU) 2020/2220 which provides for transitional arrangements for the EU CAP in the years 2021 and 2022
  • using the powers of the Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Act 2020 we laid the required secondary legislation to enable the continuation of the current CAP programme in 2021, as per Stability and Simplicity
  • in the last Parliament, the Scottish Government committed to set-up Farmer-led Climate Groups to work with the industry on developing future policy proposals. Initial reports from these groups were published in March 2021. In the SNP election manifeso there was a committment to setup an implementation board to take this work forward. We are awaiting instructions from new Ministers on how that will be taken forward
  • to establish the future shape of rural support, primary legislation will be required and a new Agriculture Bill will be brought forward in this Parliamentary session to set the tone and model of support for the next decade
  • future funding remains a live issue. The position of the previous Scottish Government was that the proposed rural funding from the UK Government provides insufficient budget to replace EU funding levels lost to Scotland. We expect that position to remain and that new Ministers, from all the Devolved Administrations, will continue to press for fair funding
  • other notable issues include EU alignment, the impact of the UK Internal Market Act 2020 and any future subsidy control system

Programme monitoring

Modification update

  • on 18 December 2020 we shared an overview of proposals for Modification 7 of the SRDP 2014-2020
  • the modification aligns budets and associated indicators to reflect committed and forecast spend
  • the European Commission formally adoped the modification on 21 April 2021

Monitoring and evaluation

  • the SRN evaluation was completed and published on 6 November. Read the evaluation for more information

  • the FAS one to many evaluation was completed and published on 20 January. Read the evaluation for more information 

  • the evaluation of AECS by NatureScot will take the form of two papers, both of which are now complete and awaiting publication. The first paper is a commissioned piece provided by the James Hutton Institute, and provides field studies and interviews within the context of three case studies. NatureScot report that the overall results of the project indicate that the scheme is benefitting biodiversity. This report will be published soon. The second report provides heat maps looking at uptake, number of hectares and funding spend on key options. The update provided highlights some key benefits that have resulted from the scheme
  • a survey of recipients of the New Entrants/Young Farmers Start-Up Grants has been undertaken and the evaluation report is nearly completed. The report will be published following final review
  • the KTIF evaluation is still being developed. Key research questions have been identified but further discussion of the available data and key policy concerns are still ongoing

AIR - annual implementation report

  • work on the AIR for 2020 is currently on-going
  • all the required data from the schemes has been gathered and it has undergone quality assurance checks. The data have been compiled and the report is being produced
  • once the AIR has been completed it will be passed to the RDOC as soon as possible for their consideration and approval
  • the deadline for the AIR to be submitted to the European Commission is the 30 of June this year, the deadline was extended to the 30 September last year

Communications

SRDP communications

  • since the Annual Strategic Communications Plan for 2020-21 was published the impacts of COVID-19 have required a refocus of activity and related communication and support. This included:
  • as part of the response phase SRN and ARE Comms have communicated support to rural stakeholders including business grants, mental health support, location of mobile testing units, sector specific guidance to the agri and hospitability sectors, promotion of consultations and surveys by SG policy areas and other stakeholders regarding COVID-19 to rural and island audiences, etc.
  • recovery phase has focused on raising awareness of ongoing developing guidance and advice, sharing examples of good practice to support rural stakeholders, promotion of webinars and virtual events to support good practice, etc.

Activities for remainder of 2020-2021:

  • promotion of key SRDP dates/milestones in run up to programme end
  • communicate details of future programme schemes as information is made available
  • continue to inform stakeholders re announcements about COVID-19 support and guidance
  • continue to inform stakeholders re announcements about Brexit and guidance
  • promote legacy of current SRDP scheme
  • comms plan for 21-22 to be developed taking on board new government prioities including 100 day plan

Scottish Rural Network

  • the SRN Team have been working at reduced capacity since February 2020, with a headcount of only three
  • despite this the team have maintained daily social media content posted across a range of platforms, publication of the weekly newsletter, updating of website content (including COVID-19 hub) and promoted various SG and stakeholder consultations regarding COVID-19 to rural and island communities
  • continued to work closely with Rural Youth Project (RYP) and other relevant stakeholders to support engagement with young people in rural and island communities including support to the Minister for Rural Affairs & Natural Environment at various meetings with follow up actions with a with a range of youth related groups. Established a Rural Youth Stakeholder Group to take forward actions relating to rural proofing the Young Person's Guarantee, outcomes from the Scottish Rural Parliament etc.
  • working with National Rural Mental Health Forum to commission research into the mental health impacts of COVID-19 on lesser heard voices with rural and island communities 
  • worked with Scottish Rural Action (SRA) to deliver the Virtual Scottish Rural Parliament 2021. Outputs of this are being reviewed and will inform a range of policy areas including development of future CLLD tests of change
  • COVID-19 hub maintained on SRN website targeted at rural audience and stakeholders. Information on locations of mobile testing units added as seperate page with weekly social media messaging to support (now discontinued)
  • worked with Local LEADER teams to develop a social media campaign promoting LEADER response to COVID-19 (#ResilientRural)
  • commissioning of 'OnFARM' podcasts covering topics relevant to rural communities (LEADER legacy, innovation, mental health etc.)
  • current priority - supporting SG Rural Communities to develop pilot 'tests of change' projects to identifiy new and innovative ways of supporting and delivering CLLD with rural and island communities - £3m funding allocated for delivery with FY 2021-22

Finance

Budget

  • total budget remains €1.5bn (or 1.25bn sterling – assumed exchange rate of €1.20 = £1)
  • the co-financing rate is 52% EU funds: 48% SG funds from 01 Jan 2020
  • pillar 1 to pillar 2 transfer – remains at 9.5%
  • the vast majority of budget committed and with on-going pressures on SG budgets there is very limited flexibility for remainder of programme
  • modification 7 focussed on minor changes, aligning budgets from those where they have already delivered against the objectives set to those were we wish to continue to delivery the benefits of the scheme. Consideration will be given for a further Modification in 2021 to maximise the use of EU funding
  • SG 2021/22 budget was annouced on 28 Jan 2021 before the UK March Budget and is in line with the latest modification
  • the UK Government has agreed to repay £160 million CAP convergence funds owed to Scotland’s farmers and crofters 
  • in March 2020 Convergence payments were made to 17,900 farmers and crofters with the total value of payments processed over £88 million
  • for Convergence 2020 we commenced payments in January 2021 (complete by 31 March 2021) paying £71.09 million of the £160m pledge from UKG. There is approximately £878k left to spend
  • Scotland has been allocated £25.7m of funding in both 2020/21 and 2021/22 as a result of the Bew Review. No decisions have yet been taken on how the Bew Review funds might be deployed
  • careful monitoring of the budget will continue this year especially in light of the concerns already raised in relation to meeting contract requirements. Businesses have been impacted by COVID-19 and we will continue to monitor progress against commitments as we move from a period of response to recovery

Error rate action plan

  • the Error Rate Action Plan is in place to identify remedial action for deficiencies found in the management and control system. Those action plans are then assessed by the Commission to check whether they would, if properly implemented, actually remedy the identified deficiencies in due time
  • at the current time there is no Error Rate Action Plan
  • there are currently no reservations relating to other EC related audits or the DG Agri Annual Report. We have just completed an audit of Capital Investment Measures and await the Letter of Observation from the Commission
  • by the time of the meeting, we will have received the Clearance Letter for the annual Audit of Legality and Regularity/Financial Accounts where the Paying Agency received an unqualified opinion
  • the DG Agri Annual Report for 2021 is expected shortly

Risk register – key risks

RIsk Impact Mitigation

Brexit/funding guarantees: Guarantee for SRDP programme for contracts in place up to 31 December 2020.

No impact for current SRDP which should allow SRDP objectives to be delivered on the rural economy and communities, including environmental and farming support.

The on-going lack of clarity for funding post 2020 risks continued delivery of these outcomes.

Potential delays to Brexit negotiations could extend the Implementation Period.

Central SG Finance, and Scottish Ministers continue to press on HMT for further clear, written funding guarantees on the UKG ‘farm support’ commitment and for information on the Shared Prosperity Fund.

Continued engagement across UK administrations to allow issues arising from an extension to be understood and addressed.

Limited budget and tightening of public sector finances, continued pressure on domestic budgets risk to overall impact on delivering SRDP outcomes.

SRDP is co-financed by SG, budget impacts will come directly from SG’s spending reviews. This may affect the ability of the programme to delivery expected outcomes, the balance between measures in the programme and the ability to deliver original level of support set out in the initially approved programme.

SRDP programme team continue to review financial allocations and demand to ensure allocated funds are provided to key priority areas, subject to ministerial decisions.

Consideration will be given to the need for a further modification in 2020.

Failure to deliver SRDP payments

IT challenge could result in delay to SRDP payments and / or limit type of scheme payment.

COVID-19 impact on normal application and claim processes.

Manual contingency has been developed for making payments if required.

National loan scheme to deliver substitute payments for LFASS support as required offered for 2019 applications.

Measures have been put in place to ensure the continued delivery of services e.g. changing to electronic claims, % of grants paid without completion certificates, area office answer phone ring back service. 

Ability to continue support to rural and remote farms and crofts due to the changes to rules for LFASS payments at 80% for 2019 and 40% for 2020.

A cessation or significant drop in support to the current less favoured areas risks the viability of up to 11,300 businesses, ultimately risking potential land abandonment and associated socio-economic and environmental impacts.

The Cabinet Secretary has committed to additional funding in the LFA area, the importance of continuing to provide support in the fragile and remote areas is a priority for this government.

Monitoring & evaluation

Lack of evidence on performance of schemes against outcomes which is necessary to inform the design of future support.

Monitoring completed or underway for most schemes. Progress against programme targets is being monitored through Annual Implementation Reports and feedback from the Commission and contractors will help improve our monitoring.

Share progress, good practice and approach with other administrations across the UK ,

Covid-19 Impacts

Covid-19 will have varying impacts on the agricultural sector and wider rural businesses. The main impacts on the SRDP so far are issues of claimants being able to fulfil contracts. This has already been noted where work has been paused, due to contracted work not being carried out.

Officials are in contact with stakeholders, area office staff, LAG’s and claimants to monitor progress, escalate any issues raised and continue to review claims on a case by case basis if necessary.