29. June 2011 · Comments Off on Damning European Court of Auditors Report · Categories: Farming, Freedom of Information, Politics, Poor had no Lawyers

The European Court of Auditors has just published a damning report on the Single Payment Scheme which was introduced as part of the 2003 reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (ECA Press Release here & BBC report here.). As I have highlighted in Chapter 18 of the Poor Had No Lawyers and written about in these posts, the vast bulk of the money handed out in public subsidy to farmers and landowners goes to a tiny elite. Indeed, across the EU, 75% of the public subsidy goes to a mere 16% of farmers (Table 2 in the report).

In Scotland, from 2000 to 2009, the top 50 recipients of agricultural subsidy received £168 million – an average of over £3.3 million in subsidy. These include the Earl of Seafield, Earl of Moray, Duke of Roxburghe and the Duke of Buccleuch. The lengths to which individuals will go to profit from the scam is illustrated by the affairs of Mr Stephen Strathdee and his company, Strathdee Properties Ltd.

Para 65 and Box 7 highlights the abuses of the system.

“Almost all the additional land that has been declared in Scotland for SPS since 2007 (ca. 58 000 ha) was rough grazing land (ca. 50 000 ha), even though the number of sheep in Scotland has been declining for a number of years.” (Box 7, pg. 38)

The report is a damning assessment of the way in which the SFP scheme has been administered in Scotland over the past 7 years. Despite this, the Brian Pack Review (pg.69) commissioned by the Scottish Government recommends that there be NO cap on the amount of subsidy any individual receives.

Unfortunately, it is now difficult to get hold of any of the data that shows what has been going on since the Scottish Government has removed it all from their website but I have republished it here.

The big test for the Scottish Government is whether they are going to continue supporting the big farmers and landowners or adopt a more holistic and fair system that delivers greater public benefits to all of rural Scotland.

EDIT 2029hrs. I forgot one of the best bits. After the auditors in para. 22 define what a “holding” is and what constitutes “agricultural activity”, they go on to say in para 23.

“The legal framework therefore does not require beneficiaries:

(a) to own land or any other means of agricultural production,
(b)to be a producer of agricultural goods; and
(c)to earn one’s income from the selling of the product of one’s agricultural activity on a market.”

Astonishing.

09. December 2010 · Comments Off on Scottish Government removes data on agricultural subsidies · Categories: Farming, Freedom of Information, Legal affairs

Following a European Court of Justice Ruling, the Scottish Government has removed all data on public subsidies paid to farmers from its website. The ruling stated that European legislation that obliges member states to publish data on the beneficiaries of agricultural subsidies is a breach of the right to privacy under the European Convention on Human Rights.

However, the ruling merely states that the Council of Ministers and European Commission exceeded their powers in making publication obligatory. It does not state that publication is of itself unlawful.

So, in the interests of transparency, freedom of information, and with a nod to Wikileaks, I am publishing the data here. The following links are to Microsoft Excel files.

Scottish Farm Subsidies 2000-2004 (20.81Mb) with thanks to Rob Edwards

Scottish Farm Subsidies 2005 (4.46Mb)

Scottish Farm Subsidies 2006 (4.63Mb)

Scottish Farm Subsidies 2007 (9.31Mb)

Scottish Farm Subsidies 2008 (8.33Mb)

The last 10 years of statistics on this are summarised in Chapter 18 of The Poor Had No Lawyers

The DEFRA website states that the European Commission has requested member states to suspend the publication of information on individual beneficiaries.

The Full Text of the judgement and other papers can be found here.

13. March 2010 · Comments Off on Access to Academic publications paid for by our taxes · Categories: Freedom of Information, Research

I am a scientist by training. I believe that science holds out great promise for a better future. I believe all research dedicated to making the world a safer, healthier and more equitable place for us all to live is important. I therefore also believe that the public should be encouraged to get acquainted with the latest findings by researchers in science and the humanities. This is particularly important just now when the very nature of the scientific method and its relationship to public policy is under sustained attack as never before over the science of climate change.

When I read a newspaper article about the latest scientific findings in a field of interest I often want to get behind the headlines and read the actual research paper to read for myself what it’s all about. So I found myself recently reading about the findings of a major enquiry into the future of land use in the UK – the Foresight project.

I wanted to read the Evidence Reviews and noted the link to the Science Direct website where i found that I had to pay $39.95 for each of the 34 reviews – that’s around £1000 for the lot! I was taken aback and contacted the officials involved. They helpfully pointed out that I could actually download the papers directly from their wesbite. That was good to know but it was not immediately obvious as the paying link came before the free link. Anyway, it reminded me again of the concerns I’ve had for a long time that the public are denied access to publicly funded research. The House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology looked at this whole issue in 2003-04 and their report is excellent. But nothing’s been done as far as I can see to implement its conclusions.

A day after my frustrations over the Foresight reports, the media was reporting new research from the Met Office showing that the evidence that humans are responsible for climate change is stronger now than it was two years ago. In the current fevered atmosphere of public debate on this topic, this is quite a claim to make. Again, I wanted to read for myself the actual report. So I went to the Met Office website and read about it  I followed the link to the report and found myself at Wiley Interscience and having to register and pay for the report. So I contacted the Met Office press people who apologised and said they were tying to get a link to work directly but meantime I had to register with Wiley to get it. I did this but found I still had to pay. That was on 8th March. Tonight (12 March), I went back to the same site and, lo and behold, I didn’t have to pay and the pdf downloaded fine. Thank you Met Office for your swift action. Here is the report.

Finally, another piece of work caught my attention – a report on upland land use. I followed the link and got a 4 page summary at the end of which I found another link to the project website and another link to the full report Future of the Uplands and we’re back at Science Direct and $39.95 for the paper!

I am currently writing book on land issues and am finding access to hundreds of academic articles that I want to consult blocked by academic publishers who want £20 a copy. This is outrageous. How is the public to be informed about important issues such as climate change if it has to pay for the privilege? Most of this research has been paid for out of public money. It should be available to all under a simple Creative Commons licence. Will this be an issue in the forthcoming General Election? Don’t hold your breath.