In an exclusive interview with The Oban Times, published today, Colin Kennedy, Convener of the Crofting Commission, said that “hell will freeze over” before he resigns. He went onto say that Fergus Ewing MSP, cabinet secretary responsible, for crofting, is contravening crofters’ human rights by not allowing access to their own share of European funds. Mr Kennedy said: “The MSP should be standing down himself“.
Mr Kennedy also made reference to alleged “cronyism within the Crofting Commission” and to practices “within the commission that are not fair and equitable“.
The Oban Times further reported Mr Kennedy as saying there is a real crisis in the Scottish Government as it tries to cover its back and leave itself open to legal challenges that could cost it millions.
The conflict between the Crofting Convener and the Cabinet Secretary has now reached an extraordinary stage. It is clear that despite the Crofting Commission stating that they supported the Scottish Government’s stance over SRDP funding of common grazings and ‘immediate’ payment of monies to shareholders this is a view not shared by Colin Kennedy. As convener of the Crofting Commission he should be expressing the views of the Board and not his personally held views.
The Framework Document between the Crofting Commission and the Scottish Government (April 2016 – October 2018) [PDF] sets out the broad framework within which the Crofting Commission will operate and defines key roles and responsibilities which underpin the relationship between the Crofting Commission and the Scottish Government.
Paragraph 21 of this Framework Document states:-
The Convener is responsible to the Scottish Ministers and, in common with any individual with responsibility for devolved functions, may also be held to account by the Scottish Parliament. The Convener shall ensure that the Crofting Commission’s policies and actions support the wider strategic policies of the Scottish Ministers; and that the Crofting Commission’s affairs are conducted with probity.
Current activities would appear to be a breach of that on the part of the Convener.
Under Paragraph 22 the Convener has a particular leadership responsibility on the following matters:-
- Ensuring that the Crofting Commission fulfils the aims and objectives set by the Scottish Ministers;
- Formulating the Board’s strategy;
- Ensuring that the Board, in reaching decisions, takes proper account of guidance issued by the Scottish Ministers;
- Promoting the efficient and effective use of staff and other resources;
- Encouraging high standards of propriety and regularity;
- Representing the views of the Board to the general public; and
- Promoting diversity throughout the organisation.
He does not appear to be ensuring that the Crofting Commission fulfils the aims and objectives set by the Scottish Ministers.
He does not appear to be ensuring that the Board, in reaching decisions, takes proper account of guidance issued by the Scottish Ministers (or at least he is disputing that guidance).
He does not appear to be promoting the efficient and effective use of staff and other resources. That was clear from him closing and walking out of the meeting in Brora.
He does not appear to be encouraging high standards of propriety and regularity.
He does not appear to be representing the views of the Board to the general public. He is only representing his own personal views which appear to be in divergence to those of the Board. Perhaps even “diametrically opposed”, being the phrase used by Fergus Ewing MSP to describe how Mr Kennedy’s own views compared to those held by the Scottish Government.
So again he appears to be in serious breach of the Framework Document.
In terms of Paragraph 23 the Convener shall also “ensure… that the board is working effectively”. Recent actions by him cannot mean that it is.
Section 1(3) of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 states:-
The Commission shall discharge their functions in accordance with such directions of a general or specific character as may from time to time be given to them in writing by the Scottish Ministers.
Directions have been given to Mr Kennedy. He appears to be ignoring those directions.
The seven principles of conduct underpinning public life (as identified by the Nolan Committee in 1995) are as follows:
Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or other friends.
Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.
In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.
The Scottish Executive took the Nolan Committee recommendations one step further with the introduction of the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Act 2000 which brought in a statutory Code of Conduct for Board Members of Devolved Public Bodies and set up a Standards Commission for Scotland to oversee the ethical standards framework.
The Scottish Executive also identified nine key principles underpinning public life in Scotland, which incorporated the seven Nolan Principles and introduced two further principles:-
8. Public Service
Holders of public office have a duty to act in the interests of the public body of which they are a Board member and to act in accordance with the core tasks of the body.
Holders of public office must respect fellow members of their public body and employees of the body and the role they play, treating them with courtesy at all times.
Does the latest outburst in The Oban Times comply with these 9 principles and especially numbers 4, 7, 8 and 9?
A Scottish Government spokesman is quoted by The Oban Times as saying:-
Serious allegations about Scottish ministers were attributed to Mr Kennedy in the press following the Crofting Commission’s meeting in Brora on September 28.
The Scottish Government has requested further information from the convener in relation to these allegations and will give this further consideration, as appropriate. While this matter is ongoing, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity [Mr Ewing] will continue to monitor the situation at the Crofting Commission closely.
Matters have surely today reached the point of no return. The ball is in Mr Ewing’s court.