The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing, put forward his plans for proceeding with the reform of crofting law, at a specially convened meeting of the Cross Party Group on Crofting.
He promised that there will be a bill in this parliamentary session which corrects the major anomalies in the current law and so enables it to work appropriately for crofters. This is the essential course of action needed and will pave the way to a consolidation bill in the next session. It is what the SCF and the Crofting Commission asked for in the consultation.
There will also be a fundamental review running in parallel which may enable more far-reaching changes to crofting law, whilst maintaining crofters’ rights, in the future – should it be deemed necessary and beneficial to crofting.
This is a very pragmatic approach and good news for crofting. Get the current legislation fixed with minimal disruption, consolidate the legislation into one act and then in future, should it be deemed necessary, make bolder changes. We are confident that we can see real progress at last.
On the goose front, an additional £10,000 is being made available (by Scottish Government, not SNH) for this coming financial year. Whatever monies that have been spent the population of greylags has increased again, by around 25% over the past year despite shooting. It would look like the money spent so far, including a large proportion on scaring rather than population reduction, has resulted in just keeping pace and/or an increase in the population. A new target figure of between 1800 and 2200 has been set by SNH, which is roughly half the previous target and about a third of the present population. This is not possible. At a recent meeting of an SCF Uist representative with the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Rosanna Cunningham, she was not aware of this new target. There seems to be a notion that somehow this can be managed sustainably by crofters with no government intervention. However, the Scottish Parliament Environment Committee will be revisiting this issue under the SCF parliamentary petition.
The dispute over crofters being issued with rates demands for sporting rights was clarified by a representative of the Scottish Assessors Association. Apparently, even though the vast majority of crofters do not hold sporting rights, they have been entered on the Valuation Roll because they occupy land. Their local authority then issues them with a demand for rates on the sporting rights they do not hold.
We are advised that the crofter should contact their local Assessor asking to be taken off the Valuation Roll and meanwhile must pay the bill. They then claim for the reimbursement of the amount they paid, back from the local authority.
There are exceptions and reductions available, so the vanishingly few crofters that do have sporting rights are probably eligible for a reduction to zero. However they do need to apply for this.
No information was offered on how much this circular procedure is costing to administer and for what return. The whole thing seems to be a futile paper exercise and a waste of public resources. It annoys crofters and is seen as the first step in setting a rateable value on agricultural land.
The fact that the rate is higher on improved land rather than on hill land, where you would expect any shooting to take place, just enhances the fear that the Government are planning to tax crofters on their land.