Join the com­mis­sion to help croft­ing

The Oban Times - - Letters -

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.

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