Publication - Minutes

SRDP Rural Development Operational Committee (RDOC) meeting: May 2021

Published: 11 Aug 2021
Date of meeting: 26 May 2021

Minutes from the group's meeting on 26 May 2021.

Published:
11 Aug 2021
SRDP Rural Development Operational Committee (RDOC) meeting: May 2021

Attendees and apologies

  • John Kerr (Chair), Scottish Government (SG), APD
  • Emma Glen, SG, APD
  • Ute Ally, European Commission
  • Jackie Thompson, Scottish Islands Group
  • Egle Puosiunaite, European Commission
  • Patrick Krause, SCF
  • Tracey Robinson, NatureScot
  • Michael Wilson, Scottish Government, APD
  • Neil Henderson, RESAS
  • Graeme Reid, SG
  • Louise Lang, SG, APD
  • Stuart Shaw, NatureScot
  • Jon Hollingdale, CWA
  • Lindsay Bisset, Scottish Forestry
  • John Brownlee, SG, APD
  • Andrew Mitchell, SG
  • James Muldoon, SG, APD
  • Lauren Johnstone, RESAS
  • Jamie Farquhar, CONFOR
  • Alan Robertson, SRN
  • Stephen Young, Scottish Land and Estates
  • Alice Biggins, SG
  • Darrell Crothers, SEPA
  • Shiree Donnelly, SG
  • Fiona Thomson, SG
  • Kairn MacLeod, SG, APD

Items and actions

Agenda

  1. Welcome and apologies
  2. Standing items:
    • 2.1: Minutes from meeting of 10 November 2020 [Paper - 0084]
    • 2.2: Programme Progress Report [Paper - 0086]
    • 2.3: Programme implementation [EC verbal update]
    • 2.4: Scheme Update Table [Paper - 0087]
    • 2.5: Strategic Communications Plan [N/A]
  1. Discussion
  2. AOB

Welcome and apologies

The Chair, John Kerr welcomed members to the May Rural Development Operational Committee (RDOC) meeting and began the meeting by introducing the attendees.

Minutes from the previous meeting

Minutes from the previous meeting were circulated and finalised following the last meeting and included as part of the invite for this meeting. The Chair asked for any comments on the minutes. One stakeholder raised that NatureScot identified an error in the transcription of the arable and peatland areas in paragraph 26 of the minutes. Revised figures were to be provided – have these figures been issued?

Action point 1: check that revised figures were provided following the last meeting.

Programme progress report

RDOC Actions/Issues Log

During the previous RDOC meeting there were a number of prior actions and issues in the log and it was agreed that these had been covered and could be cleared. The log has been updated to show actions from Novembers meeting, all of which have been completed.

Programme update

Following the reference made to Farmer Led Climate Groups in the EU exit/future issues section, a stakeholder queried the status of the final report from the Farmer and Food Production Future Policy Group. The Committee were informed that the group was commissioned by the last parliament to provide a sense of the direction of future policy. The group met fruitfully until lockdown occurred and since then members had been drafting changes to the report, however there were areas where the group were not in agreement. The group were therefore not in a position to publish the report pre-election. Fiona Harrison has picked this up since and is looking into if the agreed aspects of the report can be published as there was extensive areas of consensus. The new Minister is likely to have fresh thoughts around this, but will have not have had time to engage with the issue yet. The stakeholder highlighted that a report which demonstrated areas of non-consensus and provided discussions from different perspectives was still valuable and it was natural that there would be different views on how to proceed in the future. It was felt that a lot of good work had been carried out by the group. This perspective was to be fed back to Fiona and her team.

Another stakeholder asked about the status, timescale, make-up and leadership of the implementation board. At this stage meaningful engagement with the new Cabinet Secretary about the make-up of the proposed implementation board has not taken place. However, internally we have been preparing for new support policy. We will be looking for close engagement with all interested parties and engagement will reflect the broad interests which future legislation may cover. The exact mechanism for engagement has not been identified yet. Further clarification should emerge relatively quickly following the SNP’s first 100 days in office and there will be a number of portfolios involved.

Programme monitoring

The committee were informed that the evaluation report of the New Entrants and Young farmers Start-up grant schemes will be published shortly as there have recently been staff changes within the team compiling the reports.

A stakeholder asked when the evaluation of AECS by NatureScot was due to be published. A stakeholder from NatureScot responded that the report was undergoing final revisions and should be published soon.

Communications

The SRDP communication plan has not been issued yet as we were waiting for the election results. The first 100 day plan will be key to inform further development of the SRDP comms plan and we are waiting to establish what ministers want going forward.

Since the last RDOC meeting the SRN team has been operating with lower resource levels and has therefore had to be selective with regards to work streams. Priorities have included SG and stakeholder consultations regarding COVID-19 to rural and island communities. £3 million has been allocated to organise and run pilots this financial year focusing on community local development post LEADER. It is felt there are lessons to be learned from the fleetness of foot which rural communities displayed over the past year. SRN are additionally taking forward work with young people across rural Scotland. With regards to operational planning for 2021/22, this is impacted by the SRDP comms plan and aims to include better engagement with SRDP schemes including a scheme lead port of contact to support schemes for the remainder of the programme.

Finance

As of March 2021 there is £97.2 million remaining in the budget with two schemes left to spend in 2022/23. Moving forward there will be increased monitoring of the schemes budgets as they share and utilise the remaining budget. This will involve regular meetings with scheme leads and gathering monthly updates.

Error rate action plan

There is currently no Error Rate Action Plan. By the time of this meeting we should have received the clearance letter for the annual Audit of Legality and Regularity/Financial Accounts where the Paying Agency received an unqualified opinion.

Action point 2: confirm that the clearance letter has been received.

Risk register

We have up until now raised risks and carried out updates to the register at various points in time. The risk register needs updated to reflect our exit from the EU and to reflect the resolution of some issues. It was proposed that either we could go through the register during this meeting, or with permission from the RDOC, we would update the risk register and issue it for review and comment via email correspondence. James stressed the importance of the insight of this group to refresh the risk register and the value of internal perspectives. It was concluded the risk register would be updated and issued to RDOC members for feedback with the draft minutes of this meeting.

Action point 3: update Risk Register and issue to RDOC members for feedback.

Programme implementation

An EU colleague expressed their thanks for the effort made in implementing the programme. All schemes are on track and there are no major problems regarding implementation. The execution rate is 88% - 19% above the EU average and above the other three U.K. programmes.

14. The Implementation report can be submitted from June 1st, with the deadline being 30th June. The final Implementation report is due June 2024 which will cover expenditures and outputs up to the end of 2023. Amendments can continue until 2023 30th September regulatory deadline. The legibility of expenditure is due by 31st December 2023. Finally, the closure of the UK programme starts 2024 and guidelines around this should be issued from the EU by the end of this year.

Scheme update table

The RAG status of the Beef Efficiency Scheme has been changed to green as the contracts of the 2016 scheme participants ended on 31/12/20. The status of the Crofting Agricultural Grant Scheme reduced to amber due to increased budget and improved producers for monitoring the budget going forward. The New Entrants Capital Grant has changed to green as extra budget has been allocated. LEADER has changed from amber to amber/green to reflect Cabinet Secretary’s agreement to extend the programme to 31 December 2021 due to the impact of Covid-19 on some capital projects being completed.

Ahead of the next RDOC meeting, we would like to change the format of the scheme update table to make it easier to update and interpret. One stakeholder asked if we could provide details on how much money has been spent in addition to information on how much had been committed as they felt it would give a better indication of scheme delivery. A SG colleague highlighted that we would have to be mindful if reporting this because committed includes funds which have not been spent yet and spent figures would not account for this.

It was also raised that the figures in the mini table of the LEADER section did not add up correctly.

Action point 4: check the figures provided for LEADER in the scheme process column.

Strategic communications plan

There is currently no strategic communications plan in place and the plan provided at the last RDOC was very basic due to disruption from Covid-19 and Brexit. Until we receive steer from ministers, we are not in a position to issue a relevant plan. The next steps are to engage with ministers and compile a substantive communications plan - hopefully over the summer, which will be issued to RDOC members for review via email correspondence and can be discussed at the next meeting. It was raised that the plan would benefit from including key milestones for different schemes.

Discussion

A stakeholder asked about the future of LFASS – where it is going and how it will be funded? They noted that there had been a commitment to pay LFASS this year based on 2018 payment rates but where will this money come from and will funding continue? The Scottish Government has committed to pay the 2018 payment rate for LFASS under domestic legislation. Funding is now coming from the domestic pot which we receive for funding rather than the EU CAP fund. In terms of the future of the scheme, LFASS was discussed in the Hill and Upland Group report and recommendations for the future were made. The Scottish Government is additionally committed to EU alignment and the direction will depend on the perspective of the Cabinet Secretary, but we are open to the views of the sector. There may be merit in retaining what we have where it is simple to do so, with the view to transition to new policy once the Agriculture Bill in place.

AOB

A stakeholder raised the point that there was a focus on deer population management in the political manifestos but that the venison market has collapsed and there is a real difficulty in dealing with carcasses. He raised concerns that if this is not addressed people will be discouraged from deer control. It would be helpful if some sort of cooperative arrangement could be made for deer larders, particularly on the west side of the country where access to available outlets is restricted due to distance. This had been discussed with Scottish Forestry, however they did not think assistance could be made available through the Scottish Forestry Grant scheme. Could support be made available through the Food Processing, Marketing and Co-operation scheme under SRDP? The stakeholder was aware that Alan Hampson (Nature Scot) has raised this with others.

Action point 5: forward concerns about the venison market and the potential for funding cooperative deer larders through the Food Processing, Marketing and Co-operation scheme to Alice Biggins.

The date of future meetings will be issued through email correspondence.

Action points

Action point 1

Check that revised figures were provided following the last meeting. Completed.

Action point 2 

Confirm that the clearance letter has been received. Completed.

Action point 3 

Update Risk Register and issue to RDOC members for feedback. Completed.

Action point 4

Check the figures provided for LEADER in the scheme process column. Completed.

Action point 5

Forward concerns about the venison market and the potential for funding cooperative deer larders through the Food Processing, Marketing and Co-operation scheme to Alice Biggins. Completed