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Taking stock after a year of change for crofters

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Bill Barron, CEO, Crofting Commission.
Bill Barron, CEO, Crofting Commission.

View from the Commission by Bill Barron, CEO, Crofting Commission

The five top objectives of the Crofting Commission are set out in our corporate plan, and this month, the commissioners met to take stock of how well we are doing, and to adjust the prioritisation for the year ahead.

The commission’s five objectives are that crofts are occupied and managed; common grazings are regulated; regulation is fair and efficient; the future of active crofting is supported by engagement with others; and our workforce and governance processes are of high quality.

The task of ensuring that crofts are occupied and managed is very important for our current board of commissioners, as our convener Rod Mackenzie has emphasised in previous articles in this publication.

In 2018, we expanded the work of our residency and land use team who contact crofters who are known to be in breach of their duties. Over the following two years, over 200 breaches were resolved, but we know that far more needs to be done, and so we will again increase the size of our residency and land use team in the coming year.

They will be contacting some of those who do not return their census form; owner occupier crofters as well as tenants in breach of duties; and those who, although they are resident do not use their crofts. We will also be improving the advice we give to crofters on duties, succession-planning, and the options available to them if there is a difficulty.

Taking stock of the crofting year ahead.
Taking stock of the crofting year ahead.

The grazings work has also expanded over recent years, with efforts made to increase the number of grazings committees in office, and advice provided to them about the requirements for regulation of common grazings. After many years of gradual decline, 2019 saw an 18 per cent increase in the number of grazings committees; in 2020, we made it as easy as possible for grazings committees to continue in office despite the effects of Covid-19, and the number in office has slipped back only slightly.

Our largest team continues to focus on handling regulatory applications, and we have worked hard to improve all aspects of the process. The casework team is supported by legal and regulatory support colleagues, who oversee the decision-making process – especially for applications which are contentious or contested.

These cases are always decided by commissioners themselves. Crofting regulation is complicated, and there is always more that can be done to improve how we do it. We always take seriously any expressions of concern, but we are also encouraged by the very positive feedback we get from many crofters at the conclusion of their case.

The commission aspires to go beyond regulation and to work with others to ensure a strong future for crofting. It’s vitally important that we stay in touch with crofters in an open debate about the future. In previous years, commissioners and staff have attended agricultural shows and many public meetings, hosted by ourselves or others.

It was very unfortunate that this kind of engagement was not possible in 2020, but we are finding new ways to keep in touch – for example, board meetings are now held online, and this has meant that many more people have been able to attend them.

In the coming year, the appointment of Crofting Commission officers in the Western Isles will open new channels of communication between the commission and those crofting communities.

We have made good progress, but we know that improvements can always be made.

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