Scotland's new farming minister, Fergus Ewing, has issued an unequivocal apology for the delays in farm support payments via ScotGov's new computer system, saying that its performance had "fallen far short" of the high standards that had been delivered in recent years.

Making a statement to Holyrood, Mr Ewing - ¬ officially titled the Rural Economy Secretary - paid tribute to his predecessor, Richard Lochhead, who he described as a "tireless champion" of Scottish food and drink, who had stood up for Scotland's interests in fishing and farming here, in London and in Brussels.

But he admitted that the CAP payment scheme Mr Lochhead had overseen had caused farming and crofting communities and businesses "anger, frustration, hardship and cost".

"As someone who has represented for 17 years a constituency with vital farming and crofting interests I am very well aware of that. I want to start off with three simple words addressed by me on behalf of the Scottish Government to all farmers and crofters who have suffered as result: We are sorry. And follow it up with four words: We are fixing it.

"Progress has been made. I can say that most farmers and crofters should have received most of their due payment," he continued. "By the end of April past, all eligible farmers should have received a substantial payment from the government unless they chose to opt out of the nationally funded loan scheme. That payment will have been worth around 80% of their estimated entitlement.

"We recognised the industry’s need for cash flow. We did not meet our targets and we accepted that created problems for businesses. We were determined to get cash out to farmers and crofters and for that reason we put the nationally funded loan scheme in place.

"But if any Members’ constituents believe that they are eligible for the Basic Payment Scheme, and have not received a payment, please ask them to contact their Area Office and we shall ensure we establish what the position is with their claim," said Mr Ewing.

He acknowledged that the Auditor General’s report into the Scottish CAP delivery system, published two weeks ago, contained some very serious criticisms.

"The resolution of the CAP payment problems will not be achieved overnight, nor by any single or simple set of actions. But I believe that we shall substantially resolve these difficulties and pledge to all that it will be my first and foremost priority in my new role to bring about that resolution.

"Commissioner Hogan confirmed that a number of member states across Europe are facing problems with the ambitious timetable for the new CAP," he added. "The Audit Scotland report noted that this timetable presented a challenge, along with the complexity of the European policy and the additional features requested by the Scottish farming industry.

"And this has lain at the heart of the difficulties that we have faced. Payment performance this year has fallen far short of the very high standards that the Government has delivered in recent years."

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