In his letter to shareholders at Upper Coll the grazings ‘constable’, Colin Souter (who was illegally appointed in my view, and in the view of others including, ironically, the Crofting Commission themselves) stated:-
Following receipt of legal opinion from Queen’s Counsel, the position of Grazings Committees being able to register for VAT as trading entities in order to reclaim VAT has come under scrutiny. The dialogue with HMRC regarding VAT status remains ongoing and once concluded, I will be able to advise on the outcome.
Why and how on earth was Colin Souter in receipt of legal opinion from Queen’s Counsel on the question of whether common grazings committees could be VAT registered?
A suggestion on this blog that Colin Souter may have instructed the Opinion was met with this response from Mr Souter:-
I should also point out that I have never sought legal advice from Queen’s Counsel in any context, since being appointed as Grazings Constable.
I then asked:-
Perhaps you can enlighten us as to how you came to be in “receipt of legal opinion from Queen’s Counsel” as stated in your letter to the Upper Coll shareholders?
Mr Souter has yet to answer my question.
So who instructed this legal opinion, who paid for it and why?
How did Colin Souter come to be in possession of it and why?
In his dialogue with HMRC is Colin Souter trying to stop VAT registration at Upper Coll Common Grazings and if so why?
It can only be assumed that the attempt to stop VAT registration of common grazings probably lies at the door of the Crofting Commission. Would this not be how a grazings ‘constable’ appointed by them would be in possession of such information?
We are already aware that the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, was of the view that common grazings should not receive SRDP funding. This very alarming notion (an issue that did not concern the crofting regulator and/or its convener in any way) was firmly quashed by Fergus Ewing MSP.
It is therefore not a giant leap to think that the Crofting Commission and/or their Convener might be behind this attempt to stop common grazings being VAT registered.
If that should prove to be the case it is scandalous.
Questions regarding whether crofters should be VAT registered or not have absolutely nothing to do with the Crofting Commission. It is a matter between crofters and HMRC.
Public money should not have been spent on the opinion of Queen’s Counsel on such matters. If that has happened Audit Scotland should be investigating the issue. Another one for them to add to the growing list for their next visit to Great Glen House.
But more significantly why is the Crofting Commission and/or their Convener intent on depriving crofters of income? First it was SRDP funding. Now it appears to be VAT.
Under and in terms of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 the Crofting Commission has as one of its functions:-
promoting the interests of crofting
On their website the Crofting Commission state that it:-
regulates and promotes the interests of crofting in Scotland to secure the future of crofting.
This statement links through to a general leaflet on crofting that states:-
The Crofting Commission is working to secure the future of crofting by creating and promoting a well regulated crofting system that positively contributes to the sustainability of rural communities.
By seeking to deprive crofters of SRDP funding and now, possibly, VAT the Crofting Commission cannot be said to be promoting the interests of crofting, securing the future of crofting or positively contributing to the sustainability of rural communities. Quite the contrary.
If Commissioners are acting in such a way, completely contrary to the functions that the Crofting Commission was established to carry out, then those commissioners responsible have no place in that organisation. They should be ashamed of themselves.
They are clearly “unable or unfit to exercise the functions of a member” or “unsuitable to continue as a member”. As such the Scottish Ministers may remove them from office under and in terms of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993. There have been repeated calls over recent months for such action to be taken but if ‘Crofting VATgate’ does fall at the door of the Convener and/or any other Commissioners then this surely is the final straw that broke the camel’s back.
Fergus Ewing MSP, as Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity with responsibility for Crofting, should immediately launch an investigation to get to the root of ‘Crofting VATgate’, publicise his findings for the benefit of crofters and take appropriate and decisive action against those responsible.
Image Credit: Hector the Tax Inspector © HMRC