Farmers affected by a ‘triple whammy’ of a global pandemic, war in Europe and worldwide inflation all hitting at more or less the same time, are right to feel aggrieved, according to Baroness Davidson.
These included the energy price guarantee for householders, a relief scheme for non-domestic users and the alternative fuel payment for those off-grid, Baroness Davidson told the event, co-sponsored by Galbraith, Saffery Champness and Brodies.
Those stewarding the land should be asking what the people charged with stewarding the country were doing to help them, said the senior politician who, as Ruth Davidson, led the Scottish Conservative Party.
The plight of country dwellers was clear during her recent visit to a mixed farm at Haddington, near Edinburgh, as its owners were busy preparing their Christmas turkeys for sale. “There’s a disconnect between buying food in the supermarket and how and where it’s produced,” she told guests at a Scottish Land & Estates reception.
“In a Scottish context, when the Scottish Government is beset by challenges – educational attainment, NHS backlog, lifeline ferry routes breaking down and leaving food shortages on island shelves, A&E times that are the worst on record – it chooses to devote time and resource to constitutional court cases instead.
But she urged those who felt “scunnered with politicians right now” not to lose hope. “Firstly, there is recognition across the UK Parliament that after the excitement of the past year, a period of calm, boring managerialism and competence is required. Secondly, among the changes at numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street – work is going on to make things better.”
These included the energy price guarantee for householders, a relief scheme for non-domestic users and the alternative fuel payment for those off-grid.
Despite some objections, the 2020 UK Agriculture Act brought £1.9bn for farmers and land managers, while acceptance of the Bew Review on funding would provide additional help to Scottish farmers until the end of the current Parliament; £212m was coming direct to communities through the Shared Prosperity Fund, the latest £5m of which benefited the Borders, and £172m was coming through in Levelling Up, boosting projects in Aberdeen and Inverness.
Meanwhile a lack of compromise and consensus at Holyrood meant the long-delayed Scottish Agriculture Bill had stalled. “People can’t make decisions when they don't know what's coming. If there's no clarity over how payments going to work, then people can't make their own assessment,” the London audience heard.
Baroness Davidson also worried a standoff between the UK and Scottish governments on gene editing would leave Scottish producers disadvantaged, while delaying the R100 superfast broadband scheme until 2027, hindered 60,000 Scottish households. “You can't run a business without fast, reliable access to the internet.”
“We need what we've always needed – support and leadership to help people make the right decisions – keeping animal welfare and food production standards high, understanding and stewarding the land and environment, education for the consumer over how their dinner gets from farm to fork.
“Let’s get people away from staycations and city breaks and back to exploring, finding hidden gems, enjoying some peace and heading off the grid.”
One potential obstacle was a disconnect between party politicians and young people. “The next generation are at least as concerned as the rest of us about building a better future, yet party politicians are not speaking their language,” she told the audience in London. “That has to change.”
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