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Sir, There has been much said recently about the Crofting Commission and its actions, in particular in relation to common grazings.
As the regulator for crofting, we cannot comment on specific cases but it is clear that there have been a number of issues raised which many people have expressed concern over and the full circumstances of why action was necessary is not yet in the public domain.
I think it is important to say that the commission is not on a campaign to review the functioning of every grazings committee.
Be assured, we do understand that most of the nearly 500 grazings committees across the crofting counties are working well, and will continue to do so, helping to safeguard this important community asset.
This situation has identified the passion and value that crofters, and those who represent them, put on common grazing land. The commission shares that passion and value.
It is also important to emphasise that the commission has never said ‘every grazings committee must carry out a full audit of their accounts’ or that ‘ without question all grazings committee must distribute every penny of money to all shareholders and that no money can be retained’. This view has been advanced by others.
We are the regulator of crofting and we must represent the interest of all 15,388 crofters, the majority of whom share in common grazings, and when they express concerns we have a duty to investigate. Putting a committee out of office is not a step taken lightly by the commission and only occurs rarely.
The way the Crofters (Scotland Act) 1993 states that common grazings should be managed represents true democracy at its most local level.
It requires the committees, appointed by the shareholders to represent them, to discuss plans with the shareholders and to get their approval for improvements.
This ensures shareholders share both the costs incurred and any dividends.
Indeed, the commission has had support from crofting communities for being willing to grasp the nettle and be an effective regulator, taking the position that grazings should be properly managed.
Some have expressed concern over crofters who are absent, possibly blocking improvements or failing to pay for maintenance.
I would assure crofters that there are remedies available within the current law. The landlord has the right to make an application to the Scottish Land Court to terminate the tenancy where a person is in breach of their statutory conditions as, can the commission.
Even if that does not happen, should a shareholder fail to contribute to costs, the commission can act as arbiter and has the power to suspend or terminate a share and reallocate it.
People have asked: ‘ Why should an absentee get anything?’ The Act does not differentiate between shareholders who are resident and non-resident and, therefore, neither can the commission.
Equally there has been speculation about the interpretation of the Act. The commission is confident it is applying the law correctly but the only place this can be clarified is in the Scottish Land Court.
I would reassure committees and shareholders that we are preparing more best-practice guidance and we will make it available to all grazings committees, shareholders and crofters. In the meantime, commission staff are on hand to support and provide guidance to crofters, grazings clerks and grazings committees. Go to www.crofting.scotland.gov.uk.
In addition, we will be running an information session on common grazings at our local crofting meetings to be held across the crofting counties later in the year.
I have a genuine interest in the crofting system, partly because I have been involved in its administration for more than 20 years, but even more so because it is in my heart.
What is important to both myself and commissioners is that we work together with others to secure the future of the crofting system.
I sincerely hope those who have either engaged in this debate or have been following it will continue to engage in a discussion about what that future will look like.
For those who feel passionate about the commission and how it operates, take the chance to be part of it by standing for election early next year. This would provide you with the opportunity to be at the heart of shaping the future Crofting Commission. Catriona Maclean, Chief executive, Crofting Commission.