Scottish Government budget cuts to rural services risk “devastating” Scotland’s farms, Scottish Labour has warned.
The government’s draft budget published earlier this month cuts the rural services budget by more than a fifth, 23.8%, a total of £10.1 million compared to the previous year.
This includes a £3 million planned reduction in animal health funding and a £5.1 million fall in cash paying for advice and support for agriculture and horticulture.
Further funding cuts in this budget section include less money for food industry support, veterinary surveillance and rural cohesion.
The only aspect of the rural services budget to increase is funding to the Crofting Commission, which has risen by £400,000 to £2.9 million.
Overall funding for the Rural Economy and Connectivity portfolio has fallen by £60 million.
Scottish Labour rural economy spokesman Colin Smyth said: “SNP cuts to the rural services budget run the risk of devastating Scotland’s farms.
“Veterinary and animal health services play a vital role in ensuring Scotland’s livestock is healthy and free from disease.
“A cut to this support risks leaving our rural communities vulnerable to potentially devastating diseases such as foot and mouth.”
He called on the government to reverse the “misguided” cuts.
A spokesman for Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “Not only have we not cut payments to farmers and crofters, we have increased the LFASS payments to 100% from 80% following the decision of the European Parliament to press the commission to delay by one year the imposed reduction of payment essentially for our hill farmers.
“It is a shame that the Labour Party have not welcomed this.
“Payments to farmers and crofters are being maintained.
“Through our loans scheme, payments totalling over £311 million have now been processed to 13,295 farmers and crofters offering more money than ever before and at an earlier time.
“Loan offers have now been made to over 17,500 eligible farmer and crofters.
“With more than 75% of offers being accepted and over 90% of the money offered being paid out by mid-December.
“The 2018-19 budget for Rural Economy and Connectivity, worth £60 million, continues to support the development of a more inclusive economy for rural communities and businesses.”