Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Farmers' Union warns RHI cuts to cause 'permanent damage' to farming

Victor Chestnutt said if the cuts come into effect many farmers will face
Victor Chestnutt said if the cuts come into effect many farmers will face "dramatic" cash flow issues

The Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) has met with the Department for the Economy (DfE) to raise concerns about the proposed Renewable Heat Incentive tariff cuts, stating they could "decimate" scores of Northern Ireland businesses and cause "permanent damage" to the local farming sector.

Earlier this week, DfE announced proposed tariff cuts to boilers under the controversial green energy scheme, which led to the collapse of Stormont in January 2017.

Subject to new legislation, the revised tariffs for the most common type of boiler under the scheme will drop from around £13,000 to £2,000 a year. It's been claimed the cuts could put many out of business.

The UFU met with the permanent secretary of DfE, Noel Lavery, to voice their concerns about the tariff cuts.

Victor Chestnutt, deputy president of the UFU, said if the cuts come into effect many farmers will face "dramatic" cash flow issues.

"The proposed cuts have the potential to decimate hundreds of Northern Ireland’s farming businesses," he said.

"It is galling that these farmers entered a government run scheme in good faith, used it responsibly and now their businesses are being pushed to the wall because of the failures of others."

Mr Chestnutt said those in the scheme in the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain receive around £20k per boiler each year, whereas the proposed plans would see those Northern Ireland receive £2,000 a year.

He said this was "completely unsustainable" and doesn't take into account loan repayments, boiler maintenance or fuel.

The UFU also said the RHI audit process, which was undertaken to assess the sustainability of the scheme, was "gruelling" for farmers and many of those who were audited in the summer of 2018 have not yet received a report.

"This is completely unacceptable. We encouraged DfE to follow the lead of other regions and to organise pre-audit workshops," Mr Chestnutt said.

"I’m pleased to say they were receptive to this idea and agreed to plan workshops going forward."

The UFU is also seeking a meeting with the Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, to discuss their concerns.

A report following the public inquiry into the RHI is scheme is expected to be published later this year.

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