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Holyrood committee accuses Highland-based Crofting Commission of falling below acceptable standards and failing to act on Audit Scotland concerns


By Calum MacLeod

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The Crofting Commision is responsible for the oversight of Scotland's 20,000 crofts.
The Crofting Commision is responsible for the oversight of Scotland's 20,000 crofts.

Management at the Inverness-headquartered Crofting Commission has been criticised by MSPs for serious weaknesses in leadership and governance which have led to a breakdown in trust at the public agency.

In a report published today, Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee raises concerns that the Crofting Commission has fallen below the standards expected of a public body.

The report warns that neither the Scottish Government nor the Crofting Commission acted to address serious concerns first raised in an independent external governance review requested by the Scottish Government in 2016.

The review highlighted concerns which the Auditor General for Scotland says remain today, including differences of opinion and a lack of shared objectives amongst commissioners.

The committee has issued a statement that it is very concerned these issues will reoccur and so seeks reassurance from both organisations that lessons will be learned to prevent this from happening in the future.

The Crofting Commission is based at Great Glen House overlooking Inverness. Picture Gary Anthony.
The Crofting Commission is based at Great Glen House overlooking Inverness. Picture Gary Anthony.

Also highlighted in the report is a lack of clarity of roles and responsibilities which led to a breakdown of trust in the last year between the chief executive and the board. The committee is now seeking clarity from the Scottish Government on its plans to support rebuilding those relationships.

The committee has also raised concerns that performance issues concerning the former Convener of the Commission, identified by the Auditor, had not been detected and acted upon at the time by the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government is asked to confirm that effective oversight and monitoring arrangements are now in place.

Former Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard is the convener of the Scottish Parliament Public Affairs Committee.
Former Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard is the convener of the Scottish Parliament Public Affairs Committee.

Committee convener Richard Leonard MSP said: “It is incredibly disappointing that neither the Scottish Government nor the Crofting Commission took sufficient action to avoid the recurrence of serious concerns first highlighted as far back as 2016.

“The Committee remains gravely concerned that these issues will continue to recur unless, this time, lessons are learned and learned fast.

“We welcome the fact that there is now an action plan in place to turn things around but what we are also demanding is a culture change.

“When the new Board is elected next month, it must forge strong relationships with the Scottish Government and steer clear of the day to day running of the Commission – instead focusing on being transparent, open and accountable to the crofting communities they serve.”

The report has prompted Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant to call for a wider review of Government structures.

She commented: “This report is extremely concerning and highlights that there are people in Government, Boards and within organisations who do not clearly understand their role or responsibilities. This has led to the Scottish Government interfering and undermining boards which has resulted in a lack of leadership and a lack of clarity.

“Crofting in the Highlands and Islands is a huge economic driver that retains people and fights against depopulation. To see that no real improvements have been made to improve the Crofting Commission since concerns were firstly raised is disappointing and concerning and I would like to see this urgently addressed to avoid this occurring again.

“That is why I believe it would be best to review these governance structures so that the roles within the Crofting Commission – and other bodies – are clear and that its relationship with their Board and the Scottish Government are clearly defined.”


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