1. In May 2013 the Scottish Government launched a public consultation to gather views on its proposals for the next Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP) which will run from 2014-2020. The consultation document, Consultation on Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP) 2014-2020, was published on 1 May 2013 and set out the Government's initial proposals for the new programme period. The consultation closed on 30 June 2013.
2. The consultation questionnaire contained a combination of closed questions (for which respondents were asked, "Do you agree or disagree with X"), and open questions where they could explain their views on specific proposals.
Number and type of respondents received
3. The consultation received 151 written submissions from 43 individuals (28%) and 108 organisations / groups (72%). Organisational / group respondents included, among others: local authorities (19%); environmental, nature and heritage conservation bodies (17%); farming and crofting organisations (11%) community groups (9%); and economic development agencies (6%).
4. Less than a fifth of organisational respondents and around a third of individual respondents identified themselves as having a primary interest in farming, crofting or forestry.
5. Sixteen individual respondents submitted similar, very short responses. These responses addressed only two consultation questions: asking for significant funding to be allocated to agri-environmental schemes as a priority, and for the amount of funding modulated from the Direct Payments scheme to SRDP to be increased from the current 14% to the maximum 15%.
Interpretation of findings
6. The results of a consultation cannot be taken as representing the wider views of the general population. This means that caution must be used in interpreting the quantitative findings of a consultation. The value of consultation is in the qualitative comments that respondents make, the concerns and issues they raise and the suggestions they offer.
7. Overall, respondents were broadly in agreement with the direction of travel set out in the consultation document. There appeared to be strong support for the Scottish Government's proposals, in most cases, indicated by the high proportion of respondents expressing agreement in the closed questions. There was a clear desire for the SRDP to be simpler and more accessible, and for some respondents, this principle seemed to be more important than the specifics of how a scheme was delivered.
8. The only question on which there was disagreement was Question 11 about whether crofters should be restricted from applying for funding to other SRDP measures if a targeted Crofting Support Scheme (CSS) were established. Respondents' views appeared, in their agree / disagree responses, to be divided with a slightly higher proportion disagreeing. However, the analysis of comments on this question showed clearly that there was a high level of agreement between them (which illustrates the point made above about interpreting the quantitative findings with caution). The main issue raised on this question was that duplication of funding should be avoided. Duplication was also highlighted as an issue by respondents more generally in their comments on the overall SRDP programme (both between different SRDP schemes, and between SRDP and other funding programmes).
9. Although respondents often indicated agreement with certain proposals, usually citing the reasons given in the consultation document, their comments frequently made it clear that their agreement was in principle only. Many expressed concerns or reservations, or suggested that their agreement depended on certain conditions being met. The concerns voiced by those who agreed were often the same as (or very similar to) the reasons given by respondents who disagreed with the proposals.
10. It is also important to note that a frequent comment made by respondents, in relation to all proposals, was that insufficient information was available in the consultation document to form an opinion on particular proposals. Many said that they reserved the right to agree or disagree with the proposal once further details were available.
Key cross-cutting themes
11. Across all questions and in relation to all proposals, a number of key themes were frequently raised by respondents. At a high level these themes related to: (i) the design of the programme; (ii) the design of individual schemes within it; and (iii) the administration of SRDP 2014-2020.
12. Respondents stressed the importance of:
- Ensuring the new programme is aligned and integrated with other national (and EU) policies and programmes
- Learning from other successful programmes
- Maximising the funds available for the programme.
13. With respect to the proposed changes to individual schemes, or introduction of new schemes, it was clear that respondents would like to see schemes that:
- Emphasise public good over commercial interests
- Focus on agreed national priority outcomes
- Enable local priorities to be taken into account
- Have adequate budgetary resources
- Take into account a possible need for flexibility.
Administration of SRDP 2014-2020
14. Respondents voiced a wide range of concerns in relation to the administration of the programme. These concerns largely reflected respondents' experiences with the current SRDP with frequent calls for the Scottish Government to implement the findings from the Mid Term Evaluation of SRDP 2007-2013. Specifically, respondents wanted to see:
- High quality, comprehensive and accessible guidance from the outset
- High quality advice and support arrangements
- Greater transparency in the assessment process
- Equitable access to funding for a broad range of applicants
- Improved overall monitoring and less onerous audit procedures.
15. In general, concerns or disagreements raised in relation to individual proposals relate to one or more of the issues discussed above. There were a small number of proposals for which the comments made were very specific to the proposal. Details are available in the full report.
Priorities for investment
16. Question 3 in the consultation document asked respondents to identify their priorities for investment in the new SRDP by selecting from a list of specific investment articles (i.e. the article numbers from European legislation).
17. There was variation between groups in the articles that they prioritised. Those with interests in particular areas (e.g. forestry, farming, conservation) tended to give the highest priority to articles related to their own interests or perspectives. However, across all respondents, there appeared to be consistent support for six investment articles and consistently little support for five others.
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18. In their comments, respondents emphasised that SRDP funding should be prioritised for projects that are mostly likely to deliver public benefit and long-term sustainable impacts rather than private, short-term, commercial interests.
19. The consultation has revealed endorsement of the direction of travel for the development of SRDP 2014-2020, especially in relation to the simplification and streamlining of the programme. However, given the absence of detail about the implementation arrangements, at this stage the endorsement is in principle only.
Email: Justine Geyer