Monday, October 08, 2007

MSP farmers claimed huge secret farm subsidies without need to declare it

John Home Robertson, the former MSP who is best remembered for milking his Holyrood expenses account to the fullest extent, by having the taxpayer pay for his rent of his own son's apartment close to the Parliament building, has now been revealed to have been receiving huge farm subsidy payments to his 'family firm', to the order of £750,000 while he was member for East Lothian.

No wonder the previous Labour/LibDem Executive fought tooth & nail to prevent that FOI request being disclosed ... and not to be outdone by Labour MSPs, the Tories are not far behind, with John Scott MSP who claimed £245,000 , Alex Johnstone MSP who clamed £76,000, and Jamie McGrigor MSP who claimed £164,000.

The LibDems also couldn't stand to be left out of the farming subsidy trough, with former MSP George Lyon claiming £291,000 in farm subsidies.

How much money was spent by the Executive on resisting this FOI request by the Sunday Herald ... ?

The Sunday Herald reports :

MSPs claim £1.5m in farm subsidies ... and don’t have to declare it

By Paul Hutcheon

FIVE MSPS benefited from £1.5 million of farming subsidies that were given to their firms while they served at Holyrood, the Sunday Herald can reveal.

The largest handout went to the agricultural partnership of former Labour MSP John Home Robertson, whose family firm claimed more than £750,000 while he was member for East Lothian.

None of the grants were declared, sparking renewed calls for reform of the farming subsidy system.

The issue is controversial as farm subsidies, although funded by the European Union, are administered by the Scottish government, which distributes around £800m of grants every year.

The revelations come after Holyrood finally published its list of which businesses received farming handouts between 2000 and 2004. The previous administration had refused to hand over the data, a decision overturned by Information Commissioner Kevin Dunion.

Figures showed that, of the £1.78 billion distributed to farmers over the five-year period, around 100 of the richest farmers shared a £115m subsidy.

Top of the MSP subsidy list was Home Robertson's family firm, Home Robertson Farming Partnership, which received £559,504 over five years.

The business, in which the MSP declared himself as a sleeping partner, won a further £225,000 in 2005 and 2006, taking the total subsidy to more than £750,000 while he was at Holyrood.

John Scott, a Conservative MSP elected in 2000, is registered as a partner in W Scott and Son, a farming business that was given £245,000 in five years.

Fellow Tory Jamie McGrigor, who owns Ardchonnel Farms, also benefited from generous agricultural subsidies. Scottish government records show the MSP, who has valued his estate at around £500,000, pocketed £164,000 between 2000 and 2004.

Liberal Democrat MSP George Lyon, who lost his seat at this year's Holyrood election, is another to have benefited from the payments system.

The former deputy finance minister was criticised in 2006 after it emerged his business, A&K Farms, had been given a £70,000 grant. The new figures show the same firm claimed £291,000 in the previous five years.

Also claiming EU subsidies is Tory MSP Alex Johnstone's family firm, A Johnstone and Partners, which was registered as claiming £76,000 in the five-year period.

One critic of the subsidy system, who did not wish to be named, said it was "obscene" that MSPs' firms were benefiting from grants doled out by Scottish ministers.

Publication of the figures follows a two-and-a-half-year battle between the Sunday Herald and the former Scottish Executive,which refused to divulge which farmers received subsidies.

The information was also absent from the MSPs' register of interests, which does not require members to state whether their firms receive farming handouts.

Two of the MSPs did not declare the name of the business in which they had a stake - instead, they declared an involvement in a family firm.

McGrigor said of the subsidy: "I must tell you that it is about half or a third of the income of the farm. Everything I get paid goes straight into the farm account. If I didn't have the subsidy, I'd have to stop farming. I wouldn't be able to employ shepherds."

Johnstone explained: "I am a partner in the family firm. It is paid to the business, not me personally. The terms of the register of interest mean the subsidies are not required to be declared."

Scott said: "It goes to the company, not me. The whole point of the support system is that without it there would be no agriculture at all. It's about delivering food for the country."

Home Robertson said of the subsidy: "I was a sleeping partner in the business and I still am. I always declared it."

And Lyon explained:"Those figures will be roughly right. The position is simple in that, without subsidy, 95% of UK farmers would go out of business."

Matthew Elliot of the Taxpayers' Alliance said: "It's unsurprising these MSPs failed to declare their subsidy payments because although what they did isn't illegal, it does look highly dubious.

"Making money from a system which you are responsible for monitoring is a big conflict of interest.

"No wonder the public is becoming more and more disillusioned with politics and politicians."

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