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Hill farmers and crofters will be offered a nationally-funded loan for Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS) 2017.
The Scottish Government says the loan scheme will inject up to £55 million into some of the ‘most remote and rural communities, safeguarding jobs and local agricultural businesses’.
Eligible hill farmers and crofters will be offered a loan of up to 90 per cent of their LFASS entitlement, with payments beginning in April.
Announcing the scheme at the NFUS AGM, Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: ‘I understand how important LFASS payments are to farmers and crofters in our most remote and marginalised areas, and that is why we are again making available LFASS loans.
‘While we are making good progress in our handling of LFASS2017 scheme payments, and are on track to commence payments earlier than we have done in previous years, I want to offer as much certainty as I can right now.
‘While this loan scheme will inject up to £55 million into some of our most vulnerable and remote areas, providing much needed financial security in the months ahead, I want to reassure farmers and crofters that this loan offer does not take away funding from any public services. It is theirs and they should have it.
‘I would encourage eligible farmers and crofters to strongly consider taking up the offer of a loan.’
The Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) welcomed the advance loan for less favoured areas provided by Scottish Government and urged crofters to take advantage of it.
‘Crofters rely on the Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme,’ said SCF chairman Russell Smith. ‘In fact, the scheme was designed specifically to help marginalised areas of Europe that typically are inhabited by crofters or hill farmers.
‘It is therefore helpful that the Scottish Government has again provided a loan scheme to ensure that payments are made quickly and the benefits of money circulating in the local economy are felt as soon as possible.’
Delays have been experienced in getting the Less Favoured Areas payments out in previous years, which has caused hardship to some crofters. Owing to specific EU rules around governments making advance payments on EU schemes, the Scottish Government is making the offer of loans from domestic funding, which is not controlled by EU rules, in order to ensure that money is available.
Mr Smith added: ‘The delays experienced in receiving this lifeline payment left many crofters in dire straits so the fact that the Scottish Government is using a creative mechanism to ensure that cash-flow is more predictable for these small business is to be applauded. I therefore urge crofters to take advantage of this opportunity. We could think of it not as a loan, but as an advance payment on what we are due.’