Tag Archives: crofting

Consultation on the Future of Crofting Legislation

On 28 August 2017 the Scottish Government launched its consultation document [PDF] on the future of Crofting Legislation seeking views on both the form of the legislation and the priorities for change within it.

Launching the document, Fergus Ewing, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity said:

Crofting delivers valuable local benefits and a successful crofting sector helps our rural communities to thrive. It is therefore vital the law that governs it is fit for purpose.

Initial discussions have shown while there is plenty of agreement that the current law needs to change, there are many views on what should replace it.

I would strongly encourage anyone with an interest in the future of crofting –  whether crofters, landowners, those living in a crofting communities or in other parts of Scotland – to take part in this consultation and help us improve future legislation.

The Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) welcomed the Scottish Government’s commitment to continue the process of reforming crofting legislation within this parliamentary session.

Russell Smith, Chair of the SCF, said:-

This is another stage in the long process of crofting law reform and we are pleased that the Scottish Government is taking this forward. Following the 1993 consolidation act there have been several amendments to crofting legislation but this is still unfinished business. The addition of subsequent layers of legislation, and the fact that amendments have introduced further inconsistencies and errors, has rendered current crofting law difficult to access and, in some aspects, unusable.

This consultation is seeking views on the most suitable way to proceed with any crofting law reform and how it might be improved. It opens up opportunities to take a fresh look at crofting legislation and its purpose. At this point we may ask what crofting legislation should achieve and how best it can do this.

It is widely agreed that the law does need to be reformed further and there are suggested a range of options for taking this forward but neither of the two extremes of merely consolidating with little change or starting all over again with a ‘clean sheet’ are going to achieve a desirable result. So, we are being asked to choose between the workable options of amending and then consolidating the law or ‘restating’ it. The consultation document helpfully explains the difference.

Whilst exploring ways to make the legislation fit for purpose we must not lose sight of the fact that crofting legislation was formed to protect crofters’ rights, not to serve lawyers, this principle is inviolable. The crofting act is the heart of crofting and has evolved over 130 years, adapting to work for crofting in a changing world. This is another time of change, but the basic principles of protection must not be lost.

The SCF will be looking at these options in considerable detail and will be both seeking our members’ views and providing information for them. We encourage all crofters, and others with an interest, to attend the events the Scottish Government will be hosting and to respond to the consultation before it closes.

Scottish Government Officials will be holding a number of public meetings where they will deliver a presentation on the purpose of the consultation, an explanation of the options for changing legislation and an overview on how to respond to the consultation. There will be the opportunity to discuss the options available and to raise questions relating to the consultation.

The first such meeting takes place in Lerwick on 13 September with further meetings already scheduled for Oban (19 September), Kirkwall (26 September), Portree (3 October), Fort William (4 October), Glenuig (5 October), Kinlochbervie (10 October), Lairg (11 October) and Gairloch (12 October). More dates and locations will be announced in due course. A full list of the events, which will be updated regularly, may be found on Eventbrite where you may also register your attendance.

The consultation can be completed on Citizen Space or in printed form by contacting your local RPID Area Office. Copies of the Consultation Document will also be available at the public meetings or by contacting The Scottish Government, The Crofting Bill Team D Spur, Saughton House, Broomhouse Drive, Edinburgh EH11 3XG.

The consultation will last 12 weeks and will close at 00:00 on 20 November 2017. Any questions may also be directed to croftingconsultation@gov.scot

 

Review highlights “notable and worrying failures” in governance within the Crofting Commission

Rural Economy Secretary, Fergus Ewing, has asked the Crofting Commission to take urgent action to improve performance in crucial areas following the publication of the Governance Review [PDF] undertaken on the instruction of the Scottish Government by business advisors and accountancy firm Scott-Moncrieff.

The Scottish Government ordered the Governance Review of the Crofting Commission following the crisis of confidence in the organisation due to the inappropriate actions taken on common grazings committees and the subsequent breakdown of relationships within the Commission.

A full action plan including prioritising work to deliver the necessary improvements in the way regulatory cases and Board proceedings are managed will be delivered in response to the findings of the Governance Review.

The Crofting Commission Governance Review highlighted a range of areas that need urgent action including:-

  • Governance standards, procedures and other arrangements, at both executive and non-executive levels, to underpin effective decision-making, particularly in relation to the Bohuntin, Upper Coll and Mangersta Common Grazings cases [Note: The review did not look at the regulatory decisions themselves]
  • Arrangements for handling conflicts of interest
  • Ensuring that capacity building and development needs of Board members are met and that the necessary training is provided.

Rural Economy Secretary, Fergus Ewing, said:-

This review highlights notable and worrying failures in the governance of the crofting commission which must be improved immediately. That is why I have asked the new Chief Executive to urgently prepare an action plan to take this forward.

Crofting is an integral part of Scottish rural life and it is essential that it has an effective regulator. This review, and the action plan which will follow, must help to deliver the necessary changes and ensure the commission is able to lead the crofting industry forward.

Crofting Commission Chief Executive, Bill Barron, said:-

A number of important points have been made in the governance review and we are committed to ensuring robust processes are in place to achieve a high standard of governance within the organisation.  I will be putting in place a full action plan to ensure these points are addressed, as requested by the Rural Economy Secretary.

We have already made some of the improvements recommended in the review and we are developing a comprehensive induction programme for the new Board of Commissioners following the elections in March 2017.

Continuous improvement within the Commission, and building on the recommendations from the review, will help us to create a focussed and effective organisation working to secure the future of crofting.

The Scottish Crofting Federation has welcomed the pledge by the Scottish Government to put in place an action plan to address the failures highlighted by the Governance Review. Their Chair, Russell Smith, said:-

The Governance Review of the Crofting Commission, instigated by Scottish Government at our request, has exposed many weaknesses in basic operating procedures and in how the organisation copes with extraordinary individual behaviours. The review has made it clear that a robust Commissioner appraisal process is required, to help identify and deliver ongoing training and skills development. We are particularly keen to see a rationalisation of the roles of Commissioners, establishing when they should be delegating to the executive staff or referring to other bodies that have the required expertise. Commissioners should have a strategic and advisory capacity only. It is clear that they got too involved with executive procedures that they did not have the competence or remit for.

The review team recognises the huge damage done to the reputation of the Commission by the in-fighting and particularly that the vote of no confidence in the convener did not achieve a tangible result, that is, his removal. Frustratingly, the review does not suggest how this will be resolved, though the government’s recent exoneration will open up options.

It is alarming that the review team found there to be fundamental inconsistencies and gaps in records of events that led to the breakdown of the organisation. This appears to have handicapped the review to an extent, and is telling in itself.

The list of areas for improvement is long and the minister for crofting, Mr Fergus Ewing, has instructed that an action plan to address them be put in place as a matter of urgency. This will, we hope, sort out some of the fundamental issues that allowed the near collapse of this significant organisation. We are strongly of the opinion that the purpose and role of Commissioners needs to be appraised and a clear boundary to be set between their overseeing strategy and the staff’s executive function. This seems critical to the health of the Crofting Commission.

No comment appears to have been made by the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, on the “notable and worrying failures” found whilst he was at the helm.

Mr Kennedy has, however, as part of his campaign for re-election to the South West Highlands seat on the Crofting Commission, stated to The Oban Times that his “experience prompted” him “to make representations to the Scottish Government, which included insisting an external review was required to establish what was, or was not, going on“. One would, therefore, think that the review was instigated at the insistence of Mr Kennedy!

It was, of course, as a result of the alleged abuse of power within the Crofting Commission whilst Mr Kennedy was in charge that I and the Scottish Crofting Federation, amongst others, called on Fergus Ewing to instigate a review into goings on at Great Glen House.

As far back as April 2016, I stated:-

In 1883 a Royal Commission (The Napier Commission) was set up by Gladstone’s Liberal Government. Its purpose was ‘to inquire into the conditions of the crofters and cottars in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland’ and everything concerning them. This came on the back of The Highland Clearances and ‘The Battle of the Braes’ where the Braes crofters stood up against the 50 policemen brought in from Glasgow following the loss of their hill pasture on Ben Lee and a rent strike in protest. The Report by the Napier Commission resulted in the first Crofters Act in 1886 providing security of tenure for crofters.

130 years after security of tenure was given to crofters a new form of clearance is happening in the Highlands and Islands: The clearance of common grazings committees by the Crofting Commission. They are wielding power in an unjustified and brutal manner reminiscent of landlords from the nineteenth century. We are about to see I believe ‘The Battle of Great Glen House’ (this time perhaps fought with paper and ink rather than stones) and the Scottish Government must now institute an inquiry into the actings of the Crofting Commission and everything concerning them.

In May 2016 the then Chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation, Fiona Mandeville, referring to a meeting held in Ullapool to discuss the common grazings crisis said:-

The meeting was unequivocal in its opinion of the Crofting Commission’s conduct. As well as a vote of no confidence in the Commission, the meeting thought that it would be appropriate for the convener of the Commission to stand aside whilst an investigation is carried out into the summary dismissals of grazings committees and the internal procedures of the Commission that has led to this debacle. The Scottish Crofting Federation fully supports this.

Then in June 2016 the Scottish Crofting Federation reiterated its call on Scottish Ministers to intervene in the crofting common grazings debacle and to instigate an external examination of the Crofting Commission, following revelations of a cover-up. Fiona Mandeville then said:-

We reiterate our petition that the Scottish Ministers intervene and ensure that an impartial examination of the Commission’s recent conduct is carried out by a competent external body.

This is extremely disappointing. It seems that the only way to deal with this is through an external audit of the Commission’s behaviour over the common grazings. And we do mean a full audit.

Also in June 2016 Brian Wilson writing in The Scotsman said:-

The immediate question is whether the Scottish Government is prepared to back their quango’s interpretation of the law and its heavy-handed approach to enforcement.

In the short term, a rapid inquiry into why the Crofting Commission has got itself into this mess and how it can be helped out of it may seem a relatively attractive option.

In September 2016 the West Highland Free Press called for decisive Ministerial intervention in the crofting crisis. Their editor stated:-

As crofting minister Mr Ewing has a duty to be open and transparent in the exercise of his responsibility.  He is not just another interested observer.

He also has a duty to the crofting community to ensure that its governing body adheres to best practice and does not trample crofters into the ground.

The West Highland Free Press have also, of course, repeatedly called on Fergus Ewing to remove Colin Kennedy as Convener of the Crofting Commission. They were of the view that “more than anybody else, Mr Kennedy spearheaded the assault on the grazings committees“.

So, no, it was not Colin Kennedy who asked for the Governance Review. But it was his actions that were certainly behind the call by the many who did want to see such a review and are not surprised at all by its findings. I will consider those findings in some detail in future posts on this blog.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: Commission on the Rocks – Cartoon © A concerned crofter

Last vacant Crofting Commissioner seat filled at last

The newest Crofting Commissioners, Malcolm Mathieson and James Scott, at their first Board meeting on 8 February 2017

The newest Crofting Commissioners, Malcolm Mathieson and James Scott, ready for their first Board meeting on 8 February 2017

The Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing MSP, has announced the appointment of James Scott as a Commissioner of the Crofting Commission Board from 1 February 2017.

Appointment

James Scott runs a business, focussing on training and assessing skills in rural businesses.  James has a strong agricultural and field sports background and has previously worked in deer and conservation in both the public and private sectors.  James has a particular interest in ensuring the future of crofting through making it attractive and accessible to new and young entrants and in growing the skills of these groups to allow them to be successful crofters.

Length of Terms and Remuneration

Mr Scott’s appointment is for three years and runs from 1 February 2017 until 31 January 2020.  The appointment is part time and attracts remuneration of £161.29 per day for a time commitment of around 4.5 days per month.

The appointment is regulated by the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland.

Welcome from Crofting Commission

Bill Barron, Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission, said:

I would like to welcome James to the Commission and we look forward to working with him.  James’s expertise in conservation and interest in making crofting attractive and accessible to new and young entrants will be extremely valuable to the Board.

With a full Board of Commissioners we can work to ensure everything is in place for a smooth handover to the elected Commissioners in April 2017.

No statement has been released, as yet, by the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, regarding the appointment.

First Board Meeting

James Scott joined the other newly appointed commissioner Malcolm Mathieson for their first board meeting at Great Glen House on 8 February. What an eye opener that must have been for them with it being revealed at the meeting that threats of legal action made by the Convener, Colin Kennedy, hang over the commission and commissioners. More on that in my next post.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: © BBC Alba

New SCF Chair

Russell Smith - Chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation

Russell Smith – Chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation

With recent news of crofting commissioner appointments and a new CEO at the Crofting Commission it should also be noted that just before Christmas a new chair was appointed to the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF).

At their board and council meeting on 16 December 2016, the SCF said thanks to the out-going chair, Fiona Mandeville, who stepped down on completion of her two year tenure. Fiona handed the role to Russell Smith, a crofter from Bonar Bridge in Sutherland.

Mr Smith commented:-

The Federation has achieved a great deal in the past two years, not least the pledges made by the SNP in their manifesto and confirmed recently by the Cabinet Secretary for crofting, Fergus Ewing MSP. The pledges mirror the ‘Five Actions for Crofting’ published by the SCF just before the election.

We have brought crofting very much back on to the Scottish Government agenda with the promise from them to modernise crofting law and make it more transparent, understandable and workable in practice. This will be no mean feat but the law needs to be made to work for crofters not for lawyers. We have won a substantial improvement in the Croft House Grant Scheme and await the government’s action to re-introduce the Croft House Loan Scheme.

Scottish Government will also explore mechanisms to make more publicly owned land available to new entrants, a long running campaign of the SCF, and have promised to introduce a new entrant’s scheme for crofting and to explore the creation of new woodland crofts. At last the National Development Plan for Crofting we asked for is closer to becoming a reality.

So, yes, we have achieved a lot, but there is still much to do. With the prospect of leaving the European Union, one of the few certainties is that support to agriculture and particularly to crofting will have to be fought for. Being the only organisation solely dedicated to representing crofters means that SCF will have to fight hard to avoid being marginalised by big farmers in other parts of the country. Crofters need to stand together under one banner so that our voices can be heard.

New Crofting Commission CEO not Commissioner!

Fake Crofting NewsThe Scottish Farmer are not always on the ball when it comes to crofting news. This week they excelled themselves with the headline ‘New Crofting Commissioner announced’.

Well we had all been waiting patiently for the remaining vacant seat for an appointed commissioner to be filled. Only one of the two vacant posts was recently filled following the appointment of Malcolm Mathieson with a promise that the remaining appointment would “be made in due course“. Did The Scottish Farmer have an exclusive for us on this? Unfortunately not. They just had their CEOs mixed up with their commissioners.

Crofting CEO not CommissionerThe real news that the Scottish Farmer was trying to report was that Bill Barron has been appointed as Chief Executive at the Crofting Commission.

The Chief Executive and designated Accountable Officer is responsible for the strategic leadership and overall operation and management of the Crofting Commission, including financial controls. Bill Barron has assumed the role on a permanent basis after being appointed as interim CEO in October 2016 following the departure of Catriona Maclean.

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity Fergus Ewing said:-

I am pleased that Bill has accepted the position and will join the Commission as permanent Chief Executive.

We have achieved a number of important milestones since we established the Crofting Commission in 2012, and there is now an opportunity to build on successful developments in crofting, refocusing attention on being an effective regulator and delivering an excellent service to crofters.

I am sure that Bill will bring leadership skills and dedication to the role and I wish him every success.

Crofting Commission Chief Executive Bill Barron said:-

I am delighted to have been appointed Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission. In my three months as Interim Chief Executive I have met regularly with Commissioners, staff, crofters and many other stakeholders to hear their views.

The work I have started will continue, giving the Commission a renewed focus on securing the future of crofting and preparing for the new Board following the crofting elections in March 2017.

Background

Bill Barron – biography

Bill Barron was appointed interim CEO of the Crofting Commission in October 2016.

Before that he worked on housing policy and delivery for the Scottish Government for 8 years, covering a range of issues including homelessness, housing’s contribution to health and social care, housing-related social security, and the supply of affordable housing.

A former statistician, Bill has also worked for the UK and Scottish Governments in the fields of education, social security, health and justice.

Crofting Commission

The Commission’s board can have up to nine commissioners. A maximum of six are elected by crofters, with the remainder appointed by Scottish Ministers. The Commission is the only public body in Scotland with a majority of board members elected by the people they serve.

Brian Inkster

Only one commissioner re-stands for election

crofting commissioners leave the sinking ship?

Is there something telling about so many of the crofting commissioners not standing for re-election?

It had been expected that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) would announce the candidates for the Crofting Commission Elections 2017 on Friday 27 January.

However, apparently, due to the large number of nominations received just before the deadline of Thursday, names of the candidates could not be released until Monday 30 January. And on Monday we discovered that those candidates are:-

East Highlands (East Sutherland, Easter Ross, East Inverness and Moray) 

  • Rod Mackenzie, Teanroit, Beauly.
  • Archie MacNab, Orsay, Old Inn Croft, Blairninich, Ross-shire.
  • John Ferme McMorran, Keepers House, Balnacoil, Brora, Sutherland.

South West Highlands (Lochaber, Argyll & Bute, Arran and Cumbrae, Small Isles)

  • Ronnie Campbell, 5 Bohuntin, Roy Bridge, Lochaber.
  • Colin Niall Kennedy, Croft No2, Arinagour, Isle of Coll
  • Catherine Mackinnon, Cul a’Bhile, Bohuntin, Roy Bridge.
  • Billy Neilson, 27 Cruachan Cottages, Taynuilt, Argyll.
  • Uilleam Smith, 2 Caledonian Road, Inverness.

West Highlands (West Sutherland, Wester Ross, Skye & Lochalsh)

  • Jonathan James Hedges, Caravan, Rossal, Rogart.
  • Stephen William Love, 13 Sand Passage, Laide, Wester Ross.
  • Mairi Mackenzie, Torran, Loggie, Lochbroom, Ullapool.
  • Peter O’Donnghaile (Donnelly), 5 Camustianabhaig, Portree.

Western Isles

  • Alasdair MacEachen, 15 Aird, Balivanich, Benbecula.
  • Iain Maciver, 23 Laxay, Isle of Lewis.

Only one nomination was received for Caithness & Orkney and also Shetland. Thus each candidate for those two constituencies is automatically elected and no election will take place.

Caithness and Orkney

  • Cyril  Annal, Stensigar, South Ronaldsay, Orkney.

Shetland

  • Andy Holt, North House, Papa Stour, Shetland.

So only one of the existing elected crofting commissioners is standing for election again. That is the controversial convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy. All other existing elected commissioners have clearly had enough of the many problems that have beset their tenure in office. Much of which Colin Kennedy has received the blame for.

Thus the following commissioners will all vacate office following the elections:-

  • Marina Dennis – East Highlands
  • Ian George Macdonald – West Highlands
  • Murdo Maclennan – Western Isles
  • Arnold Pirie – Caithness and Orkney
  • Kathleen Sinclair – Shetland

There will be continuity in respect of one of the appointed commissioners, David Campbell, having already been appointed by the Scottish Government to serve a second term as a commissioner.

It is also interesting to note that Colin Kennedy’s seat (South West Highlands) is the most hotly contested one with five candidates fighting it out for a spot in Great Glen House.

The Scottish Crofting Federation welcomed the high number of nominations for the Crofting Commission elections citing it as a very positive sign for crofting. Their Chair, Russell Smith, said:-

The number of people willing to stand as candidates for the forthcoming Crofting Commission elections is very heartening. It shows that crofters care about the survival of crofting and the Crofting Commission. There is a resilience within the crofting community and the will to move on.

It is very positive that so many have stood to be counted in the Highland constituencies, especially in the South West. The Western Isles have 2 candidates but it was disappointing that Scottish Government did not take the opportunity to create further constituencies in such a large area. Orkney has relatively few crofts now so it is perhaps no surprise to have only one nomination but it is disappointing that Shetland only put forward one candidate when it is has so many well-worked crofts.

But we have enough candidates to run an election and to form a new Commission with crofter representation. That is what this is all about. We now need a good turnout to vote on 16th March, and await the Scottish Government to make the remaining appointment.

Brian Inkster

Crofting Commission dodge answering questions

Dodging Bullets at the Crofting Commission

The Crofting Commission can stop your questions by simply not answering them!

The Cross-Party Group on Crofting has been waiting patiently on answers to 18 questions that they posed to the Crofting Commission. These were originally sent to the Crofting Commission in July 2016 then modified and sent in October 2016.

  1. Where in law it is stated that the Crofting Commission cannot revisit its own decisions?
  2. Why did the Crofting Commission chose to remove three grazings committees instead of work with them to improve things, if things needed improvement?
  3. Why were grazings shareholders not given the chance to elect a new committee when the Crofting Commission removed their committee, instead of moving straight to the appointment of a grazings constable?
  4. Does a removed committee have a right of appeal to the Crofting Commission?
  5. Where in law it is stated that the Crofting Commission has the power to appoint a Grazings Constable when they remove members of a grazing committee from office?
  6. Where in law it is stated that the Crofting Commission can extend the appointment of a Grazings Constable?
  7. Why is the Crofting Commission ignoring its own guidelines on the investigation of financial irregularities?
  8. Does the Crofting Commission maintain that all funds in a grazings bank account have to be disbursed immediately (including SRDP grants, as Mr MacLennan stated is the bulk of funds in the CPGoC)?
  9. If there are 3 levels of accounting as outlined by Mr MacLennan (examination by external qualified person such as local retired bank manager, prepared by qualified accountant on information supplied, full forensic audit), what are the thresholds at which each is required? Do they apply to balance or income? Who decides what is appropriate (given this was the reason Mr MacLennan gave for the Upper Coll grazings committee being removed by the Crofting Commission?)
  10. Why did the convener of the Crofting Commission involve himself in every one of these three cases and committee removals? Is this the job of a convener?
  11. Did the convener of the Crofting Commission declare his interest in the cases when the commissioners made their decision to move to removal?
  12. Does the Crofting Commission consider value for public money when pursuing cases?
  13. Mr MacLennan emphasised that the Crofting Commission were obliged to act as a shareholder had made a complaint. This does not square with the Commission’s dealings relating to other regulatory matters. We are aware of complaints made by shareholders with regard to absenteeism and neglect of crofts that go many years without commission action so it would be good to know why you are so diligent in pursuing grazings committees with such rigour. Has there been a policy change to target this type of regulatory issue (as there was previously with absentees)?
  14. Following the letter written to the Convener by Fergus Ewing concerning disbursement of common grazings funds to shareholders and SRDP funding there were mixed messages issued to the press by Commissioners. It appeared that the contents of the letter was supported but the Commission (or perhaps certain Commissioners) still thought they had done nothing wrong. Those two statements do not sit well next to one another. Can the Commission clarify their actual stance on the letter in clear terms for the benefit of this Group.
  15. Can the Commission explain why they have been questioning SRDP funding for and VAT Registration by Common Grazings?
  16. The Commission appear to be supporting their ‘constable’ Colin Souter and his behaviour at Upper Coll. Do they actually support a ‘constable’ who is having meetings with 4 shareholders and making decisions affecting 42 shareholders when 26 out of those 42 have signed a petition calling for his removal?
  17. Will the Commission advise the Group what remit was given to Constable Souter and why he appeared to be acting in an investigatory role rather than as an actual clerk.
  18. The latest revelation appears to be matters being decided by Commissioners via ‘brown envelopes’ rather than at board meetings. Can the Commission enlighten us further on this?

There were, in addition, two questions specifically posed to the Crofting Commission via the Cross-Party Group on Crofting by Iain MacKinnon on 1 November 2016:-

I would like to draw your attention to a letter by Colin Kennedy published this month in the Scottish Farmer. In the letter he draws the Scottish Crofting Federation’s attention to ‘the commission mole’ at the time of the ‘Susan Walker debacle’. Presumably he is referring here to the anonymous commissioner quoted by the West Highland Free Press when information was leaked to the paper and other media outlets about a letter signed by five commissioners – including Mr Kennedy – calling a meeting to discuss a potential vote of no confidence in Ms Walker. Mr Kennedy told the Scottish Farmer this month:

‘I can assure the SCF that prior to my becoming convener, the mole was identified and the information was provided to the appropriate persons to take the matter forward.’

At the Cross Party Group on Crofting’s meeting on 15th September last year, Jean Urquhart asked Mr Kennedy about the leak to the press.

He was unable to give her an answer and did not identify any ‘mole’ on that occasion. However, the then chief executive of the organisation was able to respond and this is noted in the minutes as follows:

‘What is being done about the fact that there was a leak to the press from a commissioner, which is a breach of the code of conduct?

While a newspaper claimed their was leak by a Commissioner, as Accountable Officer the CEO has carried out an internal investigation which found no evidence that any Commissioner had breached the code of conduct by leaking information on the matter to the press.’

I would like to hear from the Commission’s representative at the meeting how they reconcile these two statements and to ask again, in light of Mr Kennedy’s claim: what is being done about the leak to the press; and who was the ‘mole’ as described by Mr Kennedy in his letter to The Scottish Farmer.

Six months after the first questions were put to the Crofting Commission their Interim Chief Executive, Bill Barron, addressed them at the Cross-Party Group meeting at Holyrood on 25 January 2017 by stating that he didn’t intend to answer them but would like, instead, “to focus on the future“. He wanted to “draw a line under the rows of last year“. He acknowledged that “things had been done wrong” but there was “no merit in unpicking all of that“.

Mr Barron may have missed the fact that some of the rows of last year continue into this one.

He stated:-

Some of the specific issues raised in your questions have already been clarified by the Commission.  For example, we have confirmed that we agree with the Scottish Government’s position that there is nothing in the CAP rules that prevents the Scottish Government approving an SRDP application made by a grazings committee, and that we agree with the Scottish Government’s position regarding immediate disbursement of funds.

These, however, are two points that the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, still appears to be taking issue with and possibly still taking a contrary position on compared to his fellow commissioners and the official line of the Crofting Commission. This is all contrary to the doctrine of collective corporate responsibility. Indeed it is interesting to note that following the departure from the Crofting Commission of their former Convener, Susan Walker, Colin Kennedy, then Vice Convener, stated [PDF: Board Minutes – 13 May 2015]:-

I am sure that I speak on behalf of everyone when I say that today we are all equal with collective responsibility. In fact we are all Conveners, working together for the betterment of the Crofting Commission.

However, his publicly opposing views to that of the board clearly conflict with that statement.

The Guide for Board Members of Public Bodies in Scotland [PDF] states:-

While Board members must be ready to offer constructive challenge, they must also share collective responsibility for decisions taken by the Board as a whole. If they fundamentally disagree with the decision taken by the Board, they have the option of recording their disagreement in the minutes. However, ultimately, they must either accept and support the collective decision of the Board – or resign.

Colin Kennedy was not in attendance at the Cross-Party Group meeting on Wednesday night. He has only attended one meeting out of the five that have taken place since the start of the current Parliamentary term.

At the meeting in Holyrood on Wednesday night the Chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation, Russell Smith, asked Bill Barron if Colin Kennedy was still Convener and was still chairing Board meetings. Bill Barron answered both questions in the affirmative. Russell Smith then asked if the Board was working as it should to which Bill Barron replied “it is not easy but it is getting its work done“. How well, under the circumstances, it is getting its work done is, however, very debatable.

On the points raised by Ian MacKinnon the response from Bill Barron was:-

The same [i.e. not answering the questions] holds for Iain MacKinnon’s questions about a leak to the press, which was investigated by the previous CEO in 2015. Colin Kennedy’s more recent public comments about this appear to have been made in a personal capacity, but I can confirm that the Commission has no plans to re-examine this matter. Instead, my priority is to look forward to the upcoming elections and to prepare to give the best possible support to the new Board.

So it is all about looking forward and not looking back. However, you sometimes have to look back to learn from your mistakes before you can move forward and avoid making the same mistakes again.

Perhaps the Scottish Government’s review into the governance of the Crofting Commission will reflect more on the mistakes of the past and what needs to be done to prevent a recurrence of them. The Cross-Party Group on Crofting was advised on Wednesday by Gordon Jackson, Head of Rural Business Development and Land Tenure at the Scottish Government, that this review will be published “shortly“.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: The Matrix Reloaded © Village Roadshow Pictures, Silver Pictures and NPV Entertainment

Nominations open for Crofting Commission elections

tand as a Candidate for the Crofting Commission

Fishermen may apply

An election is being held to elect Crofting Commissioners from the six crofting constituencies:

  • Shetland
  • Orkney and Caithness
  • East Highlands (East Sutherland, Easter Ross, East Inverness and Moray)
  • Western Isles
  • West Highlands (West Sutherland, Wester Ross. Skye and Lochalsh)
  • South West Highlands (Lochaber, Argyll and Bute, Arran and Cumbrae, Small Isles)

One Commissioner will be elected from each constituency and will, along with the three Commissioners appointed by the Scottish Government, make up the Board of the Crofting Commission.

Nomination forms and other documents relating to the election can be downloaded from www.cne-siar.gov.uk/electionoffice/croftingelection; obtained on request, by e- mail to elections@cne-siar.gov.uk; or from the Election Offices detailed in the Notice of Election. Completed nomination forms must be submitted by Thursday 26 January 2017.

An election will be held in each contested constituency by postal ballot, with votes having to be returned by 4.00pm on Thursday 16 March 2017.  The count will take place in the Town Hall, Point Street, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis HS1 2XF on Friday 17 March 2017 at 10.00am.

View from the Crofting Law Blog

The election nominations have been called at a time when the current Crofting Commission remains in chaos. The board is divided, the Convener is ostracised but remains in position possibly pending the outcome of a complaint made by him against Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Minister with responsibility for crofting. Vacancies for two appointed Commissioners remain unfilled.

With elections now in sight there is perhaps a glimmer of hope that they will herald in a new batch of commissioners and, as a result a new and improved Crofting Commission. However, the current Convener, Colin Kennedy, has already expressed his intention to stand again for election. He has been accused by many as the root cause of the problems that have plagued the Crofting Commission throughout its first five years of existence. So will it be a change for the better on 17 March 2017 or another 5 years of chaos, trouble and strife? That is now in the hands of the crofters who are the electorate.

The image used to encourage people to stand for election as a crofting commissioner is curiously of a fisherman. I had the following exchange about that on Twitter:-

To stand for election as a crofting commissioner you do not actually have to be a crofter as long as you have been nominated by a crofter entitled to vote at the election. So a pure fisherman, without a croft, could be a crofting commissioner.

My father was a Shetland fisherman and not a crofter. He was not even a fisherman with a croft. However, he would, I am sure, have made a better crofting commissioner than many of the crofters who hold that position today. Perhaps non-crofters being nominated for and being elected as crofting commissioners would avoid the conflicts of interest and power struggles that have plagued the current Crofting Commission over the past five years? Perhaps it would be a good thing for crofting? What do you think?

Brian Inkster

Pantomime, Farce or Tragedy?

Crofting Pantomime, farce or tragedy?

He’s right in front of you!

As news of the goings on at the Crofting Commission’s Board meeting on 14 December 2016 filtered out views thereon played out on Twitter:-

Image Credit: Dick Whittington © Hackney Empire