Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Gove Accused of Ignoring MSP's Letters Over Farming Post Brexit

North-East MSPs have accused the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs of twice ignoring a letter sent calling for assurances for farmers in future post-Brexit trade deals.

Aberdeenshire East MSP Gillian Martin and Banffshire and Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson wrote to Michael Gove in August after discussions were held by members of the National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS) at the Turriff Show.

After receiving no reply to their first letter, it was sent for a second time.

During the meeting with politicians at the Turriff Show, farmers expressed concern that standards of animal health and welfare, safety and production should be protected after the UK leaves the European Union.

But two months on, Mr Gove’s department has failed to respond to the concerns highlighted in the letter sent in August and again in mid-September.

In the correspondence, the two North-East MSPs said:

“The Scottish brand is of vital importance to our food and drink industry and is synonymous with quality. That quality is the result of the effort and skills of our producers, as well as the rules and regulations to which they must adhere.

“Farmers we have spoken with have expressed their view that standards of animal health and welfare, safety and production must be protected and the current standards should be maintained after the UK leaves the European Union.

“We therefore ask that you undertake to ensure that any future trade deals granting access to the domestic market require that incoming produce is subject to the current animal health and welfare, safety and production standards applicable to Scottish farmers.”

Commenting, Gillian Martin MSP said:

“Farmers are still in the dark about what future trade deals will mean for them post-Brexit.

“Industry must have a strong voice in shaping the future of trade upon leaving the European Union.

“The voices of this community cannot simply be left to the wayside by the UK Government and we must have clarity on what the impact is going to be for issues around the health and welfare of animals and equipment.”

Banffshire and Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson said:

“Rural communities like the ones we represent rely on the farming industry. Mr Gove cannot simply ignore the concerns of the sector. The Scottish brand is too important to leave with so many unanswered questions.”

Friday, 13 October 2017

Scottish Farmers Set to Lose Millions in 'Blatant and Shocking' Tory U-Turn

This became clear in a meeting between Secretary of State for Rural Affairs Michael Gove and SNP Westminster Leader Ian Blackford MP.

Despite promises to review it as far back as 2014 - reiterated in 2016 and 2017, Mr Gove said that neither he, nor the UK Government are committed to keeping those promises.

In January this year, in a parliamentary question, the then Tory agriculture minister George Eustice said ‘the Government is considering next steps on a review of the intra-UK allocation of the CAP budget.’

Now, Michael Gove has confirmed this is no longer the case. Ian Blackford has said this is a ‘blatant and shocking u-turn’ which shows that the Tories ‘are not to be trusted’.

In a letter to Michael Gove, Ian Blackford said it was extremely disappointing to hear that the UK Government will not keep the promise made to review the convergence uplift funding. He also sought clarity on comments made by Mr Gove that suggested that the money intended for Scottish farmers had in fact gone to Welsh, Northern Irish and English farmers instead – and he urged Mr Gove to reverse the decision, and end the injustice on Scotland's farmers.

Commenting, Ian Blackford MP said:

“Scottish farmers are set to lose £160 million in funding because the UK Government is breaking their its promise to review convergence uplifting funding.

“This is a blatant and shocking u-turn and totally unacceptable. It is another breach of trust from Michael Gove who must reverse the decision. He is once again showing the Tories are not to be trusted.

“The UK Government only received this convergence funding because the payment rates in Scotland were historically much lower than elsewhere in the UK and among the lowest in Europe. The money was provided to address this – it belongs to Scottish farming.

“Yet, when we met, Michael Gove suggested that the money had in fact been spent on Welsh, Northern Irish and English farmers and therefore now couldn’t be made available to Scottish farming.

“This is a shocking revelation. There is no doubt that farmers in other parts of the UK deserve their fair share of all EU funding too – but not at the expense of Scotland’s farmers and crofters for whom this convergence funding was originally intended.

“It is Michael Gove’s responsibility to find the money due to Scottish farmers and make good on previous UK Government promises. If not, how can rural Scotland possibly trust them to deliver a fair funding deal after Brexit.

“Indeed, this latest turn of events reinforces our call for powers and funding for agriculture and the environment to transfer to Scotland, so we can make decisions which are in the best interests of businesses, families and communities in our rural economy."

Saturday, 7 October 2017

SNP Launch New Drive for Diversity in Political Life

Ahmad Scholarship Launched at SNP Equalities Conference

The SNP has today launched a new initiative tasked with encouraging a greater number of black, Asian and minority ethnic people into political decision making in Scotland.

Transport Minister Humza Yousaf MSP and Scotland’s first female Asian MP Tasmina Ahmed Sheik will co-chair a taskforce to explore the barriers facing those entering politics and public life, with a view to overcoming those obstacles.

Their work will include establishing a new Bashir Ahmad Scholarship programme, launched today at the SNP Equalities Day, which brings together conventions for black, Asian and Minority Ethnic members, LGBTI+ members, and Disabled members at the SECC in Glasgow.

The scholarship, named in memory of the late SNP MSP Bashir Ahmad, will provide political mentoring and internship opportunities to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic members of the SNP. Bashir Ahmad made history in 2007 when he was elected as a Member of the Scottish Parliament, representing Glasgow on the regional list. He was the first Asian-Scot and non-white parliamentarian to sit in Holyrood. Bashir died in February 2009.

Setting out her commitment to increase diversity in politics and Scottish public life, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said:

"I am proud to lead a party that celebrates the diversity of our nation. From Bashir Ahmad, the first minority ethnic Scot elected to the Scottish Parliament, to Humza Yousaf, the first minority ethnic Scot appointed to government and Tasmina-Ahmed Sheik, the first minority ethnic woman elected to Westminster from Scotland, it is the SNP that has led the way in making significant cracks in the glass ceiling.

“However, we must go further. The Scottish Parliament, Westminster and our council chambers must reflect the multicultural tartan of Scotland. I want our party to not only celebrate diversity but actively ensure we reflect that diversity.

“The Bashir Ahmad Scholarship programme will provide political mentoring and internship opportunities to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Scots.

“And I have asked Humza Yousaf and Tasmina Ahmed Sheikh to co-chair a working group on behalf of the SNP to explore the barriers facing those entering politics and public life, with a view to overcoming those obstacles.

“The SNP is committed to a wholly inclusive Scotland – whether you are from Pakistan or Poland, Ireland or India, the SNP wants you as part of our movement.

“In the words of Bashir Ahmad, ‘it doesn't matter where you come from, what matters is where we go together as a nation’.”

Looking ahead to the work of the taskforce Humza Yousaf, who worked for Bashir Ahmad, added:

"Without the vision and drive of the late, great Bashir Ahmad I simply wouldn't be in the position I am in today. His efforts made it possible for me, and hopefully a future generation of minority ethnic Scots, to get involved in politics. However, it would be a mistake to think the job is done, as a nation we need to be more representative of Scottish society in all layers of our political system.

"I am delighted that the SNP has launched the Bashir Ahmad Scholarship and it is a real pleasure to co-Chair the Working Group to look at how we can make our party more reflective of Scotland's multicultural landscape."

The SNP’s Equalities Convener, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh added:

“The SNP has equality at its core. We are an inclusive, socially progressive party, with a forward-thinking membership.

“Achieving a proper balance of candidates and elected representatives who are fully reflective of all those we seek to represent, is a process and not an event. It takes time, effort and planning to deliver this kind of positive advancement.

“I’m really looking forward to co-chairing the Working Group with Humza and taking our commitment to inclusivity from strength to strength.”

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Farming Leaders Warn of £250m Cash Shortfall from Tory Brexit Plans

May speech has sown yet more confusion over farming funding

Farming leaders have today warned that Scottish farmers could lose more than £250m a year as a result of Brexit – putting further pressure on the UK Government to end the damaging uncertainty around agricultural support.

Today’s Sunday Times reports that Andrew McCornick, NFUS President, has said that moving to a Barnett share of agricultural support rather than on the existing share of support, “would effectively halve the sum coming to Scotland, and would be catastrophic for our farming and crofting sectors” – estimated at around £250m.

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing is due to meet DEFRA Secretary Michael Gove in London tomorrow (Monday), alongside Welsh Environment Secretary Lesley Griffiths and officials from the Northern Ireland Executive.

Mr Ewing has already written to Mr Gove seeking more detail on future funding arrangements for the agricultural sector in light of Brexit.

Scottish farmers are currently missing out on £160m in convergence payments – Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) convergence uplift money allocated to the UK by the EU to bring per hectare support up to the European average – which the UK Government has not distributed to Scotland. This equates to an estimated £14,000 per hill farmer over the six-year period.

Tomorrow’s meeting follows the Prime Minister’s speech in Florence, in which she made no mention of the Common Agricultural Policy. Following her speech, contradictory reports have emerged from within the UK Government regards their plans for CAP.

While one source appears to have confirmed to the media that the UK will leave the Common Agricultural Policy after the implementation phase, a separate source insisted that no decision has yet been taken on when the UK leaves CAP.

Commenting, Stephen Gethins MP said:

“This is the latest stark warning from Scotland’s farming leaders that any attempt by the Tories to water down the existing financial support could be potentially catastrophic for producers in Scottish agriculture and our food and drink sectors.

“The Tories have made vague promises about maintaining funding, but have still been unable to answer basic questions about what this will mean in practice.

“There has so far been absolutely no evidence that the UK Government are prepared to take action to deliver Scotland’s fair share of convergence funding – short-changing our hill farmers to the tune of £160m.

“And despite the Prime Minister’s most recent attempt to offer clarity for our farmers, very simple questions still remain.

“Farmers, foresters and businesses need time to properly plan for the years ahead – but that forward planning is being made immeasurably more difficult by a UK Government which is piling uncertainty on top of uncertainty.

“We will not accept any Westminster power grab as part of the Brexit process – nor will we accept any kind of financial grab.”
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