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More clarity but FAST action needed on co-design for successful ag policy

13th February 2023

Following sustained pressure on the Scottish Government in recent months to better communicate plans for future agriculture policy, industry stakeholder group FAST welcomed some clarity given by the Cabinet Secretary, Mairi Gougeon, last week.

The Food & Agriculture Scotland Taskforce (FAST) was established in Autumn 2022 following frustrations about the lack of clear communication and engagement from Scottish Government with the sector, regarding policy developments. It represents 20 organisations, including NSA Scottish Region in farming, crofting and primary production, working together to collectively help shape a constructive future agricultural policy.

On behalf of the group, Teresa Dougall, as FAST’s Rotating Chair, said that the announcement made by the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, on timelines and process was a useful first step. However, more detail and wider engagement with those in the sector is critical for the working success of the future agriculture policy:

“This is no panacea, but it does give us the best insight into Scottish Government’s future plans for farming to date. However, we’d once again urge the Government to better engage with the industry to get it right. Poor or ill-informed decisions on future financial and policy support could destabilise and damage primary production businesses, negatively impacting the wider supply chain at the same time.

“We are calling again for greater co-design with industry, which the Government has said it wants, and better communication on the details so businesses can plan ahead. FAST’s door is very much open to work constructively together with Scottish Government on this, and we’ve invited ministers and civil servants to meet with us and take advantage of the huge wealth of perspectives we can offer from around the table.”

Mairi Gougeon is meeting with the group at the end of March and opposition parties have shown a strong interest in meeting with FAST in coming weeks.

FAST members last week pointed out that lack of clear communication will hinder progress, as exemplified by the low uptake of the National Test Programme:

“We knew something was coming, but the detail was poorly communicated. By the time the National Test Programme was announced, consultants didn’t have the capacity to take on the work, some farmers have been discouraged by having to submit claims themselves or not fully understanding its proposed merits, and the consequence is that uptake so far has been very low.

“As plans are announced for new conditionality requirements, beef calf, sheep and arable schemes, we’d urge policy makers to avoid gold plating and to work with industry to co-design a practical agricultural policy that promotes food production in healthy landscapes and gives workable, long-term security to businesses along the food supply chain.”