Today, I set out our vision for the new Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP). I am keen to hear from you, the people of rural Scotland, on what is an ambitious and forward thinking programme. It will deliver on our key priorities of sustainable economic growth; environmental sustainability and vibrant rural communities.
I am grateful to those who responded to our first consultation on the next Rural Development Programme for Scotland held earlier this year, and was pleased that the broad plans we outlined gained such strong support. In this consultation
we have tried to address the various concerns expressed, particularly those regarding the level of complexity that may remain in the new programme, and the uncertainty over the detailed priorities for the programme.
A major factor in that uncertainty has been around the budget. The failure of the UK Government to negotiate anything like a reasonable budget settlement on our behalf will see Scotland continue to have the lowest Rural Development allocation per hectare in the European Union. That is a major disappointment.
Despite this blow, I am determined that there will still be opportunities to support our rural communities and economy, and further utilise Scotland's natural environment and heritage. That is why I am proposing a transfer of funds from Direct Payments into the SRDP to ensure we can fund all your priorities. But I will ensure that support for farming remains a significant strand of the SRDP. A vibrant rural Scotland is one of our greatest assets and thriving agricultural businesses are at the heart of that.
With that in mind I am committed to continuing vital funding at current levels for our Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme (LFASS) to ensure farming and crofting businesses remain sustainable. This provides essential support for 85% of Scotland's agricultural land and provides crucial support for our most fragile and remote areas. We will however continue to review this scheme in line with European regulations.
I will also ensure the livestock sector is supported to ensure we can meet demand for the high quality produce we are renowned for worldwide. I want to ensure this important sector for the Scottish and farming economy continues to grow and modernise.
I am also committed to addressing other areas of vital importance to our farmers, crofters and the Scottish economy, including supporting new entrants, crofters and small farms; and the need to modernise and improve working practices.
Of course the SRDP does more than support farming. We must continue developing and sustaining vibrant rural communities. LFASS along with crofting and small farms support will support agricultural business which contributes to this. But LEADER and the funding we will make available to small rural businesses will provide wider support. This will ensure these areas remain viable places to operate businesses and outstanding areas of natural beauty which are attractive to families both to live and to work, this is essential for our rural communities.
We must also continue to protect and improve our natural environment. We have ambitious targets for adapting to and mitigating the impact of climate change, along with biodiversity targets. The new environmental schemes will be more effectively targeted to ensure we deliver the right actions, in the right place at the right time. This will be complemented by a new fund to facilitate co-operative action at a landscape or ecosystem scale, as I recognise that co-operation allows us to achieve wider outcomes.
Across the SRDP there will also be support for customers with an enhanced Advisory Service, a refreshed Scottish Rural Network, expanded knowledge transfer and innovation, alongside improved customer support.
The SRDP is just part of the package of funding available through the EU. We are taking a more integrated approach to ensure we secure maximum value from the many investments we make using the different European funds for economic growth and fisheries. Each of these can address different aspects of our shared priorities on the economy, climate, environment and society across rural and urban Scotland. Key areas we have focussed on to ensure the various funds complement each other are business support, skills, advice and social inclusion/local development.
Finally, I am committed to improving delivery of the SRDP where it has been overly bureaucratic. I have removed the Rural Priorities Scheme, and instead there will be a targeted range of land based schemes with a common application process. So you will see I have already taken on board the concerns you raised through the first consultation phase. The new SRDP will be clearer, more effective and more customer focused to ensure it will better serve the needs of Scotland.
I look forward to hearing your views.
Richard Lochhead MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment
Email: Julie Brown