Lochhead prom­ises to help find ‘work­able so­lu­tion’ on rents

The Scotsman - - Farming - an­drEW ar­BuCKlE

THE Scot­tish Govern­ment this week promised to look at find­ing a mod­ern, work­able so­lu­tion to the vexed is­sue of set­ting rental val­ues on farms.

Speak­ing af­ter a meet­ing with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Scot­tish Ten­ant Farm­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion in El­gin, Cabi­net sec­re­tary Richard Lochhead pledged to help find a so­lu­tion to the prob­lem of fix­ing farm rents.

“Ten­ancy is­sues are of course of­ten com­plex and reg­u­la­tion is there for a pur­pose which is to of­fer pro­tec­tion and safe­guard ten­ant farm­ing’s con­tri­bu­tion to Scot­land,” Lochhead said.

“All those in­volved – ten­ant farm­ers, land­lords and the courts – recog­nise the cur­rent re­view process is too com­plex, costly and time-con­sum­ing.

Lochhead added there needed to be a mod­ern, work­able so­lu­tion that bet­ter re­flected the true value of both in­di­vid­ual farms and mar­kets.

“The Scot­tish Govern­ment will con­tinue to ex­am­ine this is­sue with a view to propos­ing changes to the for­mal process of set­ting rents as soon as is prac­ti­ca­ble,” he added.

SFTA chair­man An­gus McCall pro­posed a two-point ap­proach to mak­ing rent re­views sim­pler, fairer and less ex­pen­sive.

He wanted to see the es­tab- lish­ment of a panel of suit­ably trained and ac­cred­ited panel of ex­perts who would be qual­i­fied to ei­ther fix rents or act as ar­bi­tra­tors if a rent could not be agreed. In or­der to keep the process sim­ple and straight­for­ward the panel would fol­low a code of prac­tice and com­mon set of rules.

The SFTA also wanted to see a shift in how rental val­ues were de­ter­mined, he said. The pref­er­ence was for a value to be placed on what the farm is ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing rather than on the out­moded “open mar­ket” ba­sis which op­er­ates at present.

Re­fer­ring to a land­mark court case ear­lier this year, McCall added: “Tak­ing a sim­ple rent dis­pute to the Land Court has the po­ten­tial to get out of hand as we have seen with Moonzie.

“What hould have been a sim- ple val­u­a­tion ex­er­cise es­ca­lated into a com­pli­cated le­gal bat­tle which oc­cu­pied ten days of the Court’s time and cost both sides tens of thou­sands of pounds – far more than the sums in dis­pute.”

“There is a legacy of dis­trust from the old statu­tory ar­bi­tra­tion sys­tem. We need to cre­ate an new ar­bi­tra­tion model and a panel of qual­i­fied ex­perts who will win the trust and con­fi­dence of all par­ties.”

The Moonzie de­ci­sion in now un­der ap­peal and through­out the coun­try rent re­views are at a stand­still as landown­ers and agents await the out­come. McColl though it would be hard to see how the Land Court could un­der­take any rent cases un­til the ap­peal court expressed its opin­ion on the var­i­ous is­sues un­der chal­lenge.

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