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March 3, 2010

Where does the money actually go?

In his occasional blog from Community Woodlands Association,  Jon Hollingdale has been pondering the question of why communities seem unable to access the money they need to buy the land in order to deliver precisely the sort of public benefits the Government claims it wants to see.   More fundamentally he asks, why is land so expensive in Scotland ? It’s way beyond any value that could be justified by agricultural or forestry production

Jon Hollingdale blog –

Do you ever wonder why it’s so difficult to get money for community woodland projects to deliver exactly the sort of public benefits the Government says it wants? or ponder why land is so expensive in Scotland, way beyond any value that could be justified by agricultural (or forestry) production?

Well at least part of the reason for both is the vast amount of money that the government throws blindly at agriculture, including £560m annually in Single Farm Payment alone, which, since it was “decoupled” from production to sidestep World Trade Organisation Rules, does not require the “farmer” to do anything at all. Even spread over 5m hectares this is serious money, which ends up capitalised in inflated land values, and ensures there’s only crumbs left for genuine rural and community development projects.

Not surprisingly, there are calls for change. The Inquiry into Future Support for Agriculture in Scotland, chaired by Brian Pack, has just published an Interim Report*, which is a truly extraordinary piece of work; though sadly not for its new vision for Scottish agriculture, but for what it reveals about the mindset of the Government.

The report does at least suggest that future funding shold be conditional on active management, but pays little more than lip service to the views expressed in the “call for evidence” that public funds should be directed to the purchase of public benefit and delivering action on mitigating climate change. Instead, the direction of the argument is clear – it doesn’t matter if our agriculture is unproductive, an economic basket case and a greenhouse gas disaster, it’s the only agriculture we’ve got, and it’s Government’s job to come up with a new rationale for protecting business as usual. Unfortunately this is a role the current administration seems only too willing to embrace.

A series of public meetings** is just getting underway, and there is an opportunity for further public consultation*** – we’ll be submitting a robust response, and inviting all those with an interest in sustainable community development and mitigating climate change to do the same. If we want serious money to be spent on supporting these in future, then this is a key battleground, but we’ll have to wait and see whether there’s any inclination in Government to listen to reason when there’s a farming lobby to appease.

*The report can be downloaded from
** Go to Public meetings:
*** Go to Further consultation: