Union welcomes new look to Scottish cabinet

NFU Scotland has welcomed a new look to the way Scottish Government will drive forward Scotland’s rural economy in the years ahead.

In a change to cabinet briefs and titles, Fergus Ewing MSP has been appointed Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity while the new Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform is Roseanna Cunningham MSP.

With further appointments to come, ‘food’ has yet to be specifically named as part of a ministerial brief. With the Scottish food and drink strategy a success story for our economy, and a ‘Good Food Nation’ Bill part of the SNP manifesto, the Union is keen to see where work on building food and drink and fairer supply chains might lie.

The new appointments replace Richard Lochhead, who had held the Cabinet Secretary post for Rural Affairs, Food and the Environment since 2007. Mr Lochhead resigned from his position yesterday.

Speaking on the appointments, NFU Scotland’s President Allan Bowie said: “The redesigning of roles on matters that affect the Scottish rural economy and the environment brings a fresh dynamic. We look forward to engaging with Fergus and Roseanna and working with them on behalf of farmers and crofters.

“Their appointments come at a hugely challenging time for the industry. Volatile markets across every sector mean that we have seen farm incomes fall three years in a row and the huge problems encountered by Scottish Government in delivering new CAP support blew a huge hole in Scotland’s rural economy this spring.

“But, with both Ministers, we want to move forward and share the vision for Scottish farming and crofting that we mapped out in our manifesto for the election as the new parliament beds in.

“There is much unfinished business to be done in delivering outstanding support payments to all farmers before the payment window closes in June. As a Union, we will be looking for the new Government team to provide a guarantee that there will be no repeat of the IT debacle seen in 2015. A clear timetable for support payment delivery in the future must be set and adhered to and proper accountability needs to be established.

“We would want to see progress made on addressing the levels of red tape that plague our industry; commitments made to remove unnecessary regulation and fully implement the recommendations of Brian Pack’s ‘Doing Better’ report. We must stop gold-plating European rules, particularly those on greening and show a willingness to amend such rules when they are proven to be inappropriate in a Scottish context.

“And we want to see action that delivers a food chain which shares the risks and rewards and allows farmers and crofters to prosper. It is important that, at this time of uncertainty and volatility in the agricultural industry, we have strong voices within Scottish Government that look to build on a food and drink sector success that has yet to connect with the farm gate.”

On Richard Lochhead’s decision to step down from Cabinet, Mr Bowie said:

“We wish Richard and his family well and we are certain that his position as an MSP in a rural constituency like Moray means farming issues are never likely to be far from his door.

“As one of the longest serving cabinet ministers, Richard was always supportive of Scottish food and farming and made himself freely available to meet with farmers, crofters and stakeholders, regardless of the issue or crisis. He was a Cabinet Secretary genuinely interested in the farming industry and who always sought to deliver an outcome that would help all farmers and crofters.

“He was a polished performer at our AGM in every year in which he held office and was widely regarded as a safe pair of hands up until the recent controversy over failure to deliver Common Agricultural Policy payments to farmers and crofters, and the flawed IT system that is at its core.

“A strong supporter of the food and drink industry, he tirelessly promoted Scottish food and drink at home and abroad. While strategies are often created only to gather dust on a shelf, he championed a national food and drink policy and did all he could to push the provenance of Scottish food and drink.”

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