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'Urgency' for Crofting Commission to resolve issues after auditor general calls on body to improve governance and rebuild damaged relationships

By Hector MacKenzie

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Donald MacKinnon, chairman of the Scottish Crofting Federation: 'Everyone involved must feel frustrated'.
Donald MacKinnon, chairman of the Scottish Crofting Federation: 'Everyone involved must feel frustrated'.

The body responsible for overseeing Scotland's 20,000 crofts must improve its governance and rebuild damaged relationships between its board and managers.

There has been a breakdown in trust between the Crofting Commission's Board and its senior management team, including:

• the Board expressing a lack of confidence in the Commission's Chief Executive

• the lack of involvement of the Board in the setting of the Commission's budget

• the excessive involvement of the Board and former Convener in operational decision-making

• and concerns about the leadership of the former Convener, who resigned in June 2021.

Auditors found that a failure to respect established boundaries between the respective roles of the chief executive, convener and board were at the heart of the poor relationship.

Stephen Boyle, Auditor General for Scotland, said: “Crofting is an integral part of life in the Highlands and Islands. But the leadership and governance of the Crofting Commission is currently falling below the standards expected of a public body.

"These is a pressing need to rebuild trust between the Chief Executive and the Board to ensure the boundaries of both roles are respected.

"It is vitally important that all parties, including the Scottish Government's sponsor division, work closely together to develop better relationships so that the Commission can provide effective oversight of the services provided to crofting communities."

Issues concerning the Commission’s governance were previously highlighted in 2016.

At this time, the Scottish Government appointed consultants to carry out an external review of governance arrangements. An almost entirely new Board took office in 2017, including six new elected commissioners following elections. Membership of the Board stayed constant over the next four years.

The auditors’ work this year however identified that there has recently been a breakdown in trust between the Board and its senior management.

Crofting is a system of landholding which is unique to Scotland and is an integral part of life in the Highlands and Islands, and its economy. A croft is a relatively small agricultural land holding which is normally held in tenancy and which may or may not have buildings or a house associated with it. There are around 20,000 crofts across the crofting counties. Crofts range in size from less than half a hectare to more than 50 hectares and are about five hectares on average.

Chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation, Donald MacKinnon, said: “It is very sad to read the report from the Auditor General on the Crofting Commission. The commission is the key-stone to the much valued regulated system of land tenure that is crofting, and we hoped that this sort of internal wrangling was a thing of the past. We appreciate that the setup of a board of commissioners, some of which are elected, some appointed, an executive team and a body of government officials isn't ideal for smooth functioning and really needs to be reviewed.

"Everyone involved must feel frustrated. The shame is that this translates into a lack of achievement of outcomes, particularly that which we have raised on many occasions about occupation and use of crofts. The lack of regulation is threatening the future of this system. We note the comments from the commission convener and CEO, that the issues are being addressed, and we wish them well in this – there is an urgency.”

The full report can be read here.

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