Tag Archives: Bill Barron

A Crofting Cabal?

Is there a cabal within the Crofting Commission?

Is there a cabal within the Crofting Commission?

It was revealed by the BBC yesterday morning that Colin Kennedy, Convener of the Crofting Commission, has requested a special meeting of the Crofting Commission to take place this coming Friday, 9 December 2016 (i.e. tomorrow).

The meeting is apparently to be held in private and concerns consideration of the decisions taken by the Commission at Brora after the Convener walked out of the scheduled Board meeting and a special meeting had to be called to enable Commission business to be transacted.

It is not clear but has been suggested that Colin Kennedy may be seeking to cancel or reverse the decisions taken by the Crofting Commission at Brora. He has previously stated his personal view that this meeting was ultra vires (illegal) .

I was asked by BBC Alba to comment on this development and did so in an interview that was broadcast on An Lá yesterday evening. This blog post will cover and expand upon the points I made to BBC Alba.

Ability to call a Special Meeting

In terms of the Standing Orders that govern the conduct of Crofting Commission meetings [PDF] the Convener has the right to call a special meeting.

Public Notice

Again in terms of the Standing Orders public notice of a meeting of the Commission will normally be given by posting a Notice on the Crofting Commission website at least 4 days before the meeting.

However, public notice is not required where a special meeting is convened to deal with a matter of a particular sensitive nature.

When the BBC revealed yesterday that this meeting was to be held on Friday no public notice had been given and there was less than 4 days to go before the meeting was to take place.

Did this mean that a matter of a particular sensitive nature was to be dealt with on Friday?

If so it must have been decided by the Board that the matter was of a particular sensitive nature as the Convener alone cannot decide that in terms of the Standing Orders.

However, at some point yesterday (after the BBC revealed what the Convener was up to) a public notice appeared on the Commission’s website intimating that a special meeting was taking place at 10am on Friday 9 December 2016 at the Glenmoriston Hotel, Inverness.

Presumably that meant that the matter to be discussed on Friday was not actually of a particular sensitive nature or that Board approval to it so being had either not been sought or had not been given. Having said that item number 3 of the Agenda [PDF] is the “exclusion of press and public”. So the meeting may still be held in private if the commissioners decide that is appropriate on Friday. Interestingly that Agenda does not tell us what the business to be discussed is other than simply stating “Business that requires special urgency“.

Should the meeting be held in private?

In terms of the Standing Orders:-

Members of the press and public are entitled to attend meetings of the Commission. However, the Commission may determine that matters of a confidential or sensitive nature should be considered without the press or the public in attendance.

If the special meeting is indeed being convened to discuss the legality of the Brora meeting then as that meeting was held in public surely this one should be too?

It is already a matter that is in the public domain and one that Colin Kennedy has been outspoken about publicly in the media. It is surely therefore in the public interest that any debate covering it should be held in public and not in secret.

There appears, on the face of it, to be nothing confidential being discussed and the only sensitivities involved are those that may affect the Convener himself. Therefore there appears no good reason for the Commission to exclude the press or the public from tomorrow’s meeting.

Declaration of Interest

The Standing Orders state:-

A member of the Commission, or any officer working on behalf of the Commission, who has a direct or indirect interest in a matter being considered at a meeting of the Commission or a committee of the Commission, must disclose the nature of the interest to the meeting.

Any attempt to reverse the decision of the Brora special meeting is a matter that the Convener clearly has a direct interest in. Thus he would have to declare that interest and not take part in the meeting. Indeed, on that basis, it is questionable whether a special meeting could be called by the Convener where he is conflicted in the subject matter at hand.

Any failure by the Convener to declare an interest tomorrow will surely be questionable in the extreme.

Can the decisions made at the Brora meeting be reversed?

During the Common Grazings crisis the line peddled continually by the Commission, and supported by the Convener, was that decisions taken by the Commission cannot be altered once made and the only recourse that anyone has to do so is through the courts. Thus if this is the case should he not, if he considers he has a legitimate right to do so, personally be pursuing matters through the courts rather than via secretly convened meetings?

It has not, however, stopped the Commission from rewriting its history before now.

I trust that the interim Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission, Bill Barron, will have chapter and verse on this area from the Commission’s legal advisers to present to commissioners before the meeting commences tomorrow.

Does the Convener have support from fellow commissioners?

It has been mooted for some time that there was a divided board with some members under the spell of the Convener and others less enchanted by him. The weight possibly swung in the Convener’s favour following the resignations of Susan Walker and William Swann. However, in his absence at the special meeting in Brora there was a unified front from all the commissioners that his behaviour warranted a call for him to resign.

Perhaps the former cabal (as some have called it) has been reformed and is prepared to do the Convener’s bidding on Friday regardless of the legalities, morals and ethics that may be involved.

The identity of the members of that cabal may also become clearer depending on how things pan out tomorrow.

The public purse

It has also been questioned whether it is in the public interest for a special meeting to be called just three working days before a scheduled board meeting. Surely any matter arising could be dealt with as an additional agenda item next Wednesday? Think of the cost of commissioners travelling to Inverness from as far afield as Shetland, Orkney, Lewis, Skye and Coll twice in one week for two meetings that could have easily been dealt with as one. Presumably officials based in Edinburgh will be doing the same.

Special meetings but not Board meetings

It should also be noted that when several commissioners could not apparently attend the last scheduled Board meeting it was postponed and a new date was “being arranged” and was to “be notified as soon as possible“. No such new date was ever arranged. But it seems that whilst the Commission could not arrange a new date for a major Board meeting they have no problem doing so for a questionable special meeting. Odd that.

Minutes of the Brora meeting

As a result of the last Board meeting not taking place the minutes of the Brora meeting have yet to be approved. That is scheduled to happen at the next Board meeting next Wednesday. Can a special meeting take place tomorrow to consider a meeting the minutes of which have yet to be approved? Surely any such meeting, if even competent, should happen only after and not before approval of the minutes?

Irony

It is also somewhat ironic that the legality of a special meeting is being called into question by a special meeting being convened that, unlike the Brora one, is highly questionable in itself.

The hole gets bigger

The governance of the Crofting Commission is currently under review by the Scottish Government. Antics such as these can only add fuel to the fire.

Brian Inkster

Image credit:There is no cabal on Wikipedia‘ by Rama, Wikimedia Commons, Cc-by-sa-2.0-fr

Why are the Crofting Commissioners not meeting?

Why are the Crofting Commissioners not meeting

No commissioners to be seen at Great Glen House this past week

Following the controversial Crofting Commission board meeting in Brora their next one was set down to take place at Great Glen House in Inverness on 9 November 2016. However a few days before the date of that meeting a notice appeared on the Crofting Commission’s website stating that:-

The Board meeting due to take place on 9 November has been postponed, as several Commissioners are not available on that date. A new date is being arranged and will be notified as soon as possible.

This is quite extraordinary. These meetings are scheduled months, perhaps a whole year, in advance. Commissioners know when they are happening and should be available for them. There will always be occasions when a commissioner can’t make the meeting for good reason but the meetings continue regardless with those who can attend.

Meetings of the Crofting Commission  must consist of at least five members. Where there are three or more elected members, the quorum must include no fewer than three such members.

There are currently seven commissioners in post out of the nine possible, with two positions waiting to be filled following the resignations of Susan Walker and William Swann.

So were at least three of the commissioners not able to attend the meeting on 9 November and if so why not?

Commissioners may attend meetings by videoconference or by teleconference if not able to attend in person. Is it really the case that at least three commissioners could not attend in person and could not attend by videoconference or by teleconference?

There does not appear to be anything in the Standing Orders relating to the Conduct of Meetings for the Crofting Commission allowing the postponement or rescheduling of a meeting in advance of it taking place once a date has been fixed.

There are provisions on the day of the meeting if a quorum is not present for the Convener to allow ten minutes before adjourning the meeting and fixing a time, then or afterwards, for it to take place.

As often seems to be the case these days the Crofting Commission appear to be ignoring the rules and making it up as they go along.

It has been suggested by some that the divisions within the board, and the position that has prevailed since the Brora meeting, mean they simply cannot meet and cannot make decisions at board level. At least not whilst the current Convener remains in post.

Bill Barron, on being appointed interim Chief Executive, said:-

I am looking forward to working with everyone at the Crofting Commission and our partners, to ensure that the Commission remains focused on giving a good service to crofters, promoting and protecting the interests of crofting, and providing effective regulation.

Not a good start to his watch for him to allow the first board meeting to be cancelled. There is clearly actually a severe lack of focus on giving a good service to crofters, promoting and protecting the interests of crofting, and providing effective regulation.

Meantime the Scottish Government has formally announced its review into the governance of the Crofting Commission. The latest goings on at Great Glen House, this past week alone, demonstrate how necessary such a review actually is.

Brian Inkster

Crofting Law whilst in Milan

Crofting Law whilst in Milan

The dome in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan, Italy

It is over a week since my last blog post. Not because it has been quiet in the world of crofting law but because I’ve been away in Milan. I didn’t quite escape crofting law whilst there as I had a meeting where a translator turned my crofting law advice into Italian. I hope nothing was lost in translation. Not sure what the Italian is for souming!

Last time I was away from the UK I commented that there was ‘no let up on the common grazings crisis whilst on holiday‘. Much the same this time around. Especially due to the fact that the ‘twa Colins’ (as they have become known in the comments section of this blog) are, somewhat incredulously, still in post.

Colin Souter, the Grazings ‘Constable‘ of Upper Coll, still seems to hold that ‘position’ despite the Crofting Commission announcing over three weeks ago that he would be stepping down “as soon as possible“. Why has he not stepped down or been stepped down?

Colin Souter has been uncharacteristically quiet during that period. Whereas Colin Kennedy, Convener of the Crofting Commission, has been uncharacteristically vocal. My last blog post looked at his  crofting ‘crusade‘ as revealed in The Scottish Farmer. A week later and The Scottish Farmer have published a letter from Colin Kennedy which starts with an attack on the Scottish Crofting Federation, rambles on a bit and is cryptic in places but seems to be blaming the  former Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission, Catriona Maclean, for everything that everyone else has been blaming him for. I will look at that, and the further breaches of the code of conduct by Mr Kennedy arising therefrom, in a future blog post.

Kennedy is the renegade commissioner who is breaking almost all, if not every, ethical standard expected of public office holders. The Editor of the West Highland Free Press wondered a couple of weeks ago how Kennedy had still not received his P45. Patrick Krause, Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation, writing in the Press & Journal around the same time expected this “Ozymandias with delusions of grandeur” to have been toppled by now.

The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, referred to Kennedy’s behaviour as “disappointing” and hinted at the powers the Scottish Ministers had to remove him. Since then he has gone on a personal tirade against those very ministers, his commissioner colleagues and commission staff. How has he been allowed to go on like this? Who is in control? What message does this send out to crofters and the general electorate? Where and how will it all end?

I referred earlier to “former” Chief Executive, Catriona Maclean, because her replacement on an interim basis, Bill Barron, started work at Great Glen House on Monday. I will also look at that in more detail in a future blog post.

However, how can this new interim Chief Executive be expected to effectively operate an organisation where the Convener has gone renegade? Where that convener does not have the support of the other commissioners, the Scottish Ministers, any of the crofting representative bodies or the vast majority of crofters? Could the role be any more of a poisoned chalice?

What else happened over the past week? Well:-

  • The closing date came and went for applications for the two appointed Crofting Commissioner posts.
  • Top search terms leading people to this blog were “Colin Kennedy Crofting Commission” and “the Marquis & Marchioness of Stafford”. I have previously drawn comparisons.
  • Comments on the blog took on a Star Trek theme making a change from Star Wars analogies. The Dark Side have become the Klingons it would appear 😉
  • Revelations of baboon-a-grams being advertised on the Isle of Coll emerged. We are searching the News of the World archives for more on this story which just might eclipse the Convener’s Throne for amusement value.
  • It would appear that back issues of the News of the World, Press & Journal and Oban Times also hold other interesting stories about the Isle of Coll. We will see what our research turns up.
  • Crofting road shows will be taking place to inform crofters about the Crofting Commission  elections and other crofting issues.
  • The Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee has launched a call for written evidence to help inform its short, focussed review of priorities for crofting law reform.
  • Crofting Election Regulations have been put before the Scottish Parliament but these make no changes, as previously mooted, to the six constituency boundaries.

A week is clearly a long time in crofting law!

More detail on some of these stories  will appear in future blog posts. Do subscribe to this blog by inserting your e-mail address in the box in the top right of this page and press ‘Subscribe’. You will then receive the latest blog posts directly into your mail box as soon as they are published. You don’t want to miss that baboon-a-gram story 😉

Brian Inkster