Attendees and apologies
Ian Davidson, SG - ARD (Chair)
Alan Robertson, SG - SRN
Jon Hollingdale, Community Woods
James Rose, SG - SRN
Susan Smith, COSLA (East Lothian)
Alistair Prior, SG - SRN
Jamie Farquhar, CONFOR
Neil Henderson, SG - RESAS
Darrell Crothers, SEPA
Kirsten Beddows, SG - ARD
Jonnie Hall, NFUS
Ewen Scott, SG - ARD
Vicki Swales, Scottish Env LINK
Ian Cowe, Forestry Commission
Gordon Jackson, SG – ARD
Caroline Wood, RICARDO
Bryan McGrath, Local Action Groups
John Brownlee, SG
Julian Pace, Scottish Enterprise
Lawrence Rosie, SG
Claudia Rowse, SNH
Fiona Grossman, European Commission
Andrew Midgley, Scottish Land Estates
Annette Sibbit, SG - ARD
Stoyan Stoyanov, SG - ARD
Items and actions
Welcome and apologies
1. The Chair, Ian Davidson, welcomed the members to the Rural Development Operational Committee (RDOC) meeting. The Chair shared some information from his recent visit to Brussels and invited Fiona Grossman to talk about her impression from her day out to Flanders Moss and the process of peatland restoration. The Chair also welcomed Annette Sibbit (AS) who joined the team last October on detached duty and has now joined the team permanently, along with Stoyan Stoyanov, who has joined the team, as an EU Rural Development Programme and Policy Officer.
2. AS provided the list of apologies given: Stephen Field – SEPA, Elinor Mitchell - Director of ARE, SG, Alexander Bartovic – European Commission, Patrick Krause – Scottish Crofting Federation, Tarja Tiainen – European Commission, Brendan Callaghan – Forestry Commission, Yvonne White – Scottish Crofting Federation and Andrew Carton – ARE, SG.
Minutes from the previous RDOC held on 26 October 2017 and matters arising
3. The Chair opened this section of the meeting by asking members if they had any comments on the overall content.
4. Apart from a request from a member of the committee to change the wording of item 10, in order to avoid any confusion, the minutes were accepted.
5. Kirsten Beddows (KB) presented this paper, starting by summarising the actions from the previous meeting; all actions are closed or will be covered on the agenda.
6. KB noted progress against the Partnership Agreement and invited members of the RDOC committee to attend the Joint Programme Monitoring Committee meeting on 30 May 2018 and contribute to the discussion. She emphasised the value and expertise that members of the committee can bring to the debate.
7. KB advised the group that there are no changes regarding the UK funding guarantees as discussed at the previous RDOC meeting. She reiterated the guarantees provided by the UKG, that any commitments made before 29 March 2019 will be funded for the duration of these contracts. LFASS 2019 is also guaranteed, however, the position across the programme after Brexit is unclear and Ministers continue to seek further guarantees.
8. KB also provided a short update on the UKG commitment to maintaining the same cash total in funds for “farm support” until the end of the current parliament. The term ‘farm support’ has not officially been defined and we are waiting on information from HM Treasury regarding the SRDP schemes that farm support covers. While the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) support the principle that all of Pillar 2 should be included, it will be decided by HM Treasury.
9. Claudia Rowse (CR) raised concerns about future funding. The Chair reassured the group that it is a priority for SRDP to assist as many farmers as possible before March 2019, because at the moment the funding around future contracts is unclear.
10. A point was also raised about the future impact of cuts to the LEADER scheme and the other EU Structural Funds. The Chair restated the Scottish Government’s commitment to continue funding LEADER projects that have been agreed before 29 March 2019.
11. The group also questioned the Scottish Government’s plan to deal with the various Brexit scenarios and their impact of the agricultural sector and wider rural development. They showed interest in informing future policy and participating in the discussions that are to come around funding. The Chair informed the group that all scenarios are being explored and further details could be provided once the policy has been agreed with Ministers.
12. KB advised that if a modification was required to the programme this year it was expected to be brought to the October RDOC meeting. KB also informed the group that it was most likely that a modification will be made to the Finance section in 2019.
13. Ewen Scott (ES) provided an update.
14. ES invited members of the committee to comment on the colour rating in the table and encouraged ideas to make the information more accessible. Some members of the committee raised a concern that the colour system didn’t accurately reflect the progress of schemes. A specific suggestion was to incorporate arrows in combination with red, amber and green indicator system to highlight changes in performance of the individual schemes.
15. The group expressed interest in receiving further details about how the funds are spent and noted that £35 million still need to be committed through the LEADER programme. The Chair advised the group, that further details on the financing of the programme can be provided once the policy has been agreed with Mr Ewing.
16. Vicki Swales (VS) recognised that the Agri-Environment and Climate Scheme (AECS) document presented is a start, however, she also requested further detail, including information on the delivery against the outcomes and more context of the statistics quoted in the paper to aid in-depth analysis. This view was shared by all Committee members, who were keen to see a greater level of detail in future reports, complemented with live updates. The argument was also made that having a greater level of detail will inform long term planning after Brexit.
17. Discussion followed, some members expressed a concern to the group that there wasn’t a baseline set for the AECS scheme; they also enquired about the impact that the funds have had on the ground for land managers. Others acknowledged the benefits of monitoring, but also warned that it provides a limited representation of the situation on the ground and further information from other departments/ organisations is required.
18. Members of the group reiterated their concern about the future of AECS after the funding for the scheme ends. They also enquired about the government’s plan to provide contracts after Brexit.
19. It was also stated that UKG and SG need to be consistent in their message to potential applicants and keep them well informed of the option to apply for schemes in the lead up to the UK exit from the EU.
20. The Chair advised the group that there is a greater degree of uncertainty following the EU referendum, which has resulted in a decrease in the number of applications in this programming period. He identified the next big challenge as being the lack of clarity around funding arrangements for the schemes post-2020.
21. Members questioned Ian Cowe (IC), if there were statistics available for the Forestry Grant Scheme. IC confirmed that the published statistics for the Forestry Grant Scheme can be found online.
22. Annual summaries of activity are available for 15/16 and 16/17; further to these a full scheme summary is published every month after each round of new approvals. Table 3 in the March 2018 statistics breaks down our woodland creation activity by woodland type for the whole period of the FGS.
Action 1: Scheme table - ES to investigate the revising of the scheme table to incorporate “up/down arrows” and provide more detail i.e. geographic distribution of projects.
Action 2: AECS annex – where there are a small number of applications it would be beneficial to supply the actual application figures as the graph does not provide the detail required.
Action 3: Secretariat to arrange a meeting between Chair and stakeholders to explore the feasibility of a short term AECS monitoring programme.
Action 4: Consider more detail for AECS including comparisons with the previous Rural Priorities scheme and include geographic information
Action 5: Risk register: include who the risk applies to and include arrows to indicate the movement (up/down).
Action 6: FPMC – the committee were keen to know more about the size of businesses receiving grants under this scheme. Information about awards to date can be found online.
23. Caroline Wood from RICARDO joined the meeting and provided the committee with an overview of what the Farm Advisory Service offers. The presentation can be found online.
The Chair thanked Caroline for her informative talk.
24. James Rose presented the communication plan; providing an update to the omissions from the plan previously issued.
25. Alan Robertson (AR) presented the list of priorities and events that are planned for the 2018/2019 work programme. AR also advised that they are planning to review the website and make the information more accessible to visitors. He also informed the group that the weekly newsletter is issued to more than 1,200 subscribers and the SRN proactively engages with stakeholders through the use of various social media channels.
26. The committee expressed an interest in the approach and methods used by the SRN to reach their target audience. Further questions followed regarding the availability of statistical data and the effectiveness of their communication strategy. It was explained to the group that the SRN uses its network and stakeholder to effectively communicate its message.
27. The Chair congratulated the SRN on their work around the OECD conference.
Action 7: Due to the number of members leaving the meeting it was agreed that the SRN work programme and the Annual Strategic Communication Plan would be reissued to members to request feedback. (Completed 04.05.2018)
28. John Brownlee (JB) provided an overview of the progress of the Brexit negotiations. He informed the group that a transition period has been agreed until the end of 2020, although this period will be until the end of 2019 for the Pillar I direct payment regulations.
29. JB also advised that the progress of the Brexit negotiations indicates that the UK will continue to maintain its environmental obligations. The Withdrawal Bill is going through the House of Lords with amendments being discussed. He also expressed the frustration of some EU officials with the progress on negotiations and the lack of clarity around the UK’s position on agriculture.
30. JB informed the group that the Agriculture Champions are preparing their report and recommendations.
31. JB advised the committee that next EU CAP appears to be moving to a higher performance model with a focus on higher quality food, with an emphasis on the protection of the environment.
32. Members of the committee expressed interest in receiving a more detailed breakdown of the budget, which shows the legacy spending and details about what that includes.
33. Neil Henderson provided an overview of the performance reserve indicators for the 2014 – 2017 period. He advised that the milestones for the UK have been set very high in comparison to other countries and we have until the end of this year (2018) to reach our targets.
Action 8: An update will be provided at the next RDOC meeting on how we are performing against the targets.
34. Lawrence Rosie presented the error rate action plan paper which outlined the progress with the error rate action plan – which was used to capture and action issues, for Direct Payments and Pillar 2, raised though EC audits. A number of the actions were now complete, which it was hoped would allow Scotland’s ‘error rate’ to come down. However, EU audits continue so it was possible that new actions would be included. It was noted that these are more likely to be Direct Payments issues, rather than related to the SRDP.
35. No AOB was raised. The next meeting is to be on 24 October 2018.
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