Farmers lose out on aid

DAVID SCOTT Scottish Government Editor

THE government was accused last night of failing Britainís farmers after
admitting that an "administrative oversight" had cost the industry a share
of millions of pounds in European Union aid to help it fight BSE and other
animal diseases.

Ross Finnie, the Scottish rural development minister, was put in the
embarrassing position of having to disclose that the Department of Food and
Rural Affairs (DEFRA) had failed to meet the deadline for its bid for up to
£5 million to finance a monitoring scheme to help counter BSE in cows and
scrapie in sheep.

The ministerís admission was made in reply to a parliamentary question by
Fergus Ewing, the SNP MSP for Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber, who
immediately seized on the error as an example of how Scotland could be let
down by a UK department.

Mr Finnie told Mr Ewing that EU legislation required member states to submit
applications for the funding by 1 June. He added: "The Executive is aware
that, due to an administrative oversight, a submission from the UK was not
submitted by that deadline."

Mr Ewing said every country in the EU, apart from the UK, had applied for,
and received, a share of a package, worth 122 million (around £80 million),
to fight BSE and other animal diseases.

France had received £20 million; Ireland, £4.3 million, and Scotland "not a

He added: "Mr Finnieís response was refreshingly honest but a clear
indication of his abilities.

"He admitted the reason no submission was made was due to an Ďadministrative
oversightí. How much more incompetent can this government be?"

An SNP spokesman said the Scottish Executive was relying on the UK
government to deliver and the latest revelation was a further sign it was
letting Scotland down.

The National Farmersí Union in Scotland voiced anger at DEFRAís failure to
meet the deadline.

A spokesman said: "My understanding is that the UK was the only member state
not to have applied for this money, which is extremely embarrassing for the
government given the fact we have experienced the worst animal disease
outbreak in living memory."

The Executive said applications for EU surveillance funding for
transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE) were made at member state
level through DEFRA, which took the lead responsibility on behalf of UK
agriculture departments.

An Executive spokeswoman said it was regrettable the initial deadline for
applications had been missed but pointed out that efforts were being made to
have a late UK application accepted.

"We have not given up hope that this will be successful," she added.

The spokeswoman said the surveillance programme for Scottish farmers or
their costs or incomes would not be affected. "Expenditure on surveillance
is a very small part of the overall TSE/BSE costs, which are borne jointly
by the UK Exchequer and the European Community."

A spokesman for DEFRA said its failure to get the application in by the 1
June deadline was an oversight by officials who had been engaged in intense
activity over the past year.