The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party Robin Swann has questioned why only 10% of the anticipated £250m budget for the Farm Business Investment Scheme has been provided, despite the scheme being half way through its originally recommended three year cycle.
Mr Swann said: “The headline recommendation by the Agri-food Strategy Board was that a £250m budget was going to be made available for a Farm Business Improvement Scheme, running over a period of three years. Many anticipated this to mean one tranche, consisting of two tiers, over each of the following three years.
“Now with the first tranche complete, but with some letters of offer still outstanding for Tier 2 applicants, only £17.6m was committed in year one.
“Last week DAERA announced it would be opening applications to a second tranche of Tier 1 of the scheme in January again, and that this time is envisaged a further budget of £7.5million. This mirrors closely the sum of £7.6m that was committed to Tier 1 in the first tranche.
“Worryingly however, we appear to be exactly half way through the planned three year timeframe of the scheme but have only seen a total budget of £25.1m. That’s just 10% of the original anticipated £250m pot.
“It’s looking increasingly likely that in fact farmers won’t receive anything remotely near the level of support they had previously been promised.
“The FBIS was a scheme with great potential, however the rollout has been marred with delays. I have spoken to dozens of applicants who are angry and frustrated at what they see to be excessive bureaucracy and unwarranted delays associated with the scheme.
“Now, with every further public comment from DAERA in relation to future tranches, it would appear that the full impact of the FBIS will be far smaller than what was initially anticipated. Frustratingly, the ongoing absence of an Executive at Stormont will only make it easier for previous commitments such as this to be dropped.”