UncategorizedComments (12)

I haven’t blogged in a while, but I feel I have to get some of my thoughts down on paper, following the recent turn of events in the crofting world.  An issue has arisen with the Upper Coll Common Grazings (you can read about it here), which resulted in the committee being “sacked” by the Crofting Commission.  I’m not going to write about specifics here but I will instead point you in the direction of the excellent Crofting Law Blog, which has recently posted about the matter.  My immediate concern is what does this mean for the rest of the crofting world.  As I heard one crofter say, the Commission “want crofters, just no crofting”.

On Monday of this week, the Commission posted this news article, “reminding” crofters of their rights and the duties of Grazings Committees.  This is what has prompted a mixture of anger and concern amongst numerous crofters.

My attention was drawn to the section on Financial Management, with particular focus on the following statement:

“As trustees, any money received by the committee belongs to the shareholders and should be distributed to them as soon as is reasonably practicable.  It is not the township’s or the committee’s money and as such it is the duty of the grazings clerk to distribute any money received from whatever source, but in particular resumptions, according to each individual shareholder’s share entitlement whether or not they are active in the grazings.”

My understanding of this then is that no Common Grazings Committee should have any funds in reserve, and should operate with zero in their bank account.  This seems nonsensical to me and totally impractical.

What happens when a village wants to carry out some improvement work, or pay some incidental bills?  Well, all shareholders have to stump up:

“When the grazings committee require monies to maintain the common grazings and the fixed equipment or to carry out works for improvements, the committee must levy and recover the required monies directly from the shareholders for onward payment to any third parties.”

According to what I’ve read, these details have been in place since the 1993 Crofter’s Act, but there has obviously been an element of common-sense in place until now.  While I’m sure most shareholders would readily accept their share of any township income, have you ever tried getting money out of people who a) don’t have it, or b) don’t want to part with it?  I think it leads to (totally unnecessary, in my opinion) friction within villages.

I’m going to give some (hypothetical) examples of why I think this approach is detrimental to crofting, and community life in crofting townships:

Village A has 20 shareholders, with 10 of those actively using their crofts & common grazing share (half being active is generous, in my experience). The 10 active crofters in the village meet regularly (notifying all shareholders) and decide to enter Village A into a corncrake scheme, which pays £5000 per annum, for 5 years, into village funds.  This money must then be immediately paid out, with each shareholder receiving £250 (lets say they all have equal souming/shares) and they are more than happy to accept the money.  The active crofters then are unable to put the money directly to use for the village, and they also lose out on access to the common grazing for part of the year (as set out by the scheme).

The Grazings Committee decide to repair the fence at a cost of £10,000.  Each shareholder is notified about the village intentions, and the committee put in time & effort to secure a 60% grant towards the cost of the fence.  This means that the outstanding balance of £4,000 must be paid by each of the shareholders. The 10 active crofters agree to paying their £200 share, but those not using the common grazing refuse to do so, meaning that the active crofters either have to pay £400 each, or the fencing cannot progress.

The village gets their fence, and the 10 active crofters each put 50 sheep onto the Common Grazing land.  The village charges a levy of £1 per beast, meaning that the active crofters pay £50 each into the township bank account, which is then immediately redistributed amongst the 20 shareholders.  The active ones get £25 back, while the inactive ones also receive £25.

In the end, the active crofters say stuff this.

The way I see it, this approach does nothing to encourage active crofting, it actually encourages those who are inactive to hold onto their crofts, particularly if they are in a well-run, well-off village.  It can lead to the breakdown of communal activities, of communities, of traditional working practices. It’s infuriating.  These things might make sense from behind a desk, but absolutely do not when put into a practical context.

I have previously been Grazings Clerk of our village and the last time we met to elect a new committee, I was the only person who attended the (advertised) meeting.  I certainly wouldn’t encourage our village to elect a new committee just now; we don’t have a lot of money in the bank, and I really wouldn’t like to go knocking on elderly neighbours’ doors, asking for them to pay their share of any & all bills that come our way.

I’m going for a lie down now…

» Uncategorized » Crofting

April 27, 2016

12 Responses to Crofting

  1. Charlie says:

    Yep, feel your pain. I can’t stand the apathy of those who don’t want to get involved. In my view if the shareholders want to have a say then they should turn up at meetings. I’m on a committee of 9 with 27 shareholders, we can’t do anything because no one wants to step up and do what needs to be done. I feel like I’m banging my head off a brick wall! There needs to be a clerks/chairs association set up in order to drive change. In some respects I was glad to see some clarity finally coming from the Commission after seeking answers like these for years.

  2. Jake sayles says:

    Is there any way you could email me this blog Donald? Very well described… I’d like to use it to highlight this issue with your permission.

  3. Roddy says:

    That’s a good read Donald. The actions of the Crofting Commission just now are fairly worrying to be honest. I wonder how many more Committees will end up being ‘disolved’ before common sense prevails. One thing is for sure though and that is that a lot of damage is being done by their current course of action.

  4. Alex graham says:

    Well said Donald am an acting crofter but don’t use the grazings for my pigs or hens and also plant veg and fruit there are dozens of crofts in our village that are not in use by the folk that own them but some may be rented out annually to other crofters for grazing and those people are the ones that never spent a penny on there crofts in all the years they’ve had them and won’t lift a finger to help or even a pen to put a signature to a neighbours plans for an agreed boundary between crofts for example or even pay a share of the boundary fence at the end of the day it’s just greed to think you don’t need to do anything and sit back and wait for some money to roll in, something needs to change!

  5. Elsie Mitchell says:

    Excellent blog. You could also add that Village A is only accepted into the Corncrake Scheme because there are active crofters in the Village, with livestock, that are able to graze the sward down at certain times of year and to have an area of mown or grazed grassland for Corncrake.

  6. […] Macsween (a crofter in Ness on the Isle of Lewis) has blogged on the “nonsensical” and “totally impractical” stance by the Croftin… on the financial management of grazing funds. He makes some very astute and sensible points. Ones […]

  7. Iain Buchanan says:

    Donald ‘Sweeny’s interpretation of Crofting Township management & administration reality is spot on in this latest blog.

    Now that Mangersta Grazings Committee have dared to ‘come out’ and reveal the intolerable ongoings at the Crofting Commission, I can share this very relevant and very important point to you all which is at the crux of these disputes.

    ‘Old’ Mangurstadh was cleared in 1874 to make way for a farm and was eventually resettled in 1911 when 13 ‘New’ crofts were formed. This was 105yrs ago and since then it has been common practice in our village for any monies that we received for all the various agri-schemes we entered to be paid directly into the village Grazings A/C to be used for the upkeep of village infrastructure. At no point, until now of course, has any single shareholder asked for or received his or her individual share of Mangersta Grazing funds. This has resulted in us having a ‘very’ healthy bank balance which in turn has enabled us to improve the fabric of our village and provide agri-related resources for the common good. I am very proud of our record on this particular issue and all our achievements in this village and believe this is a good model for others to follow. However, the Crofting Commission is now demanding we distribute our reserve funds to all shareholders, one of which has not lived in our village for nearly half a century and has never been a resident shareholder. Are we really expected to break with a traditional and established procedure which has stood the test of time and served our village well for the past one hundred plus years without interuption? I Don’t Think So Mr Kennedy!

    If it wasn’t so serious, all this would be laughable. It is high time the CC woke up to the realities of living in a working crofting community.
    We must collectively try to stop this nonsense before it’s too late. Every Grazings Committee throughout the Highlands & Islands of Scotland should make their representations to the CC on these fundamental and important matters. Moran Taing, Iain.

  8. John says:

    Donold, excellent blog and excellent series. I was directed to your site via Brian Inksters blog. Whilst no big fan of the Crofting Commission I feel if we got rid of them we would only get another regulatory body in its place. I feel these organisations bog themselves down with bureaucracy and as we all know that then stifles democracy.
    On the grazing committee issue, (hypothetically), what happens when the grazing committee themselves become dictatorial. Pushing the village along a path which benefits only one committee members. As an active shareholder you argue your case which falls on deaf ears and you see thousands and thousands being spent on things which do not benefit the village as a whole. As a shareholder your only recourse is to contact the Commission who have a duty to investigate.
    I think the real problem lie with the 2010 Act and the sooner it’s got rid off the better. I have always argued for a more radical approach where we have to get to grips with who is an active crofter and who’s not. Those that are not and do not wish to participate in village life for whatever reason be it age or otherwise enter into an arrangement where their house and garden site is feuded off ( not lose it completely ) which then frees up the croft. Fences can then be rearranged and active crofters have bigger areas to graze, cultivate and make more of a go of it. I know this would come with its own problems but we should be big enough to have the conversation and come to some consensus. Then money coming into the village is shared equally amongst the active crofters and if you want a share of it you get active.
    Sent from my iPad

  9. […] detail in a future post. For now I would refer you again to Donald Macsween’s very astute blog post on the “nonsensical” and “totally impractical” stance by the Crofting Commission on the financial management of grazing […]

  10. malc says:

    I fully sympathies with this situation, active and proactive crofter vs the inactive or even feared crofters on the common grazing.
    Our committee has in excess of £10k in the bank account……great you would say what a well run and prudent way to do things but alas not. We have some members paying for the sheep dip, others not, the dip and pens in disrepair, some members getting money for some sort of plantation scheme, others not, the books can not be looked at by any one, there is little or no communication but when the commission ask questions all seems hunky-dory,.
    The main problem as I see it is the commission has not got enough legal powers(and do not want them) for example they should force a 2 yearly audit of account, these should be submitted along with members filling a questionnaire sent out directly by the commission which ask relevant question about the running of the grazing committee and if the member is satisfied or unsatisfied and why.
    For all of you lucky ones who have good, active and inclusive committees you probably can not understand what the fa-lour is all about but I have members asking me where is this money where is that money why I am paying but McSplock not etc, as a member of the committee I have done everything in my power, complained to the commission but to completely no avail.
    Now what we seem to see is the commission is targeting the wrong committees, why??
    Can you imagine the fall out if a JP or similar standing person is at the helm of the committee that is being run like a junta and this person is told to step aside due to impropriety etc…… more than the jobs worth Commissioner could do. They are the system, they protect their system and they like to be in charge.
    So what the cure…………make the grazing committee a legal binding business with all the rules of a LTD business. The books are public, second all members are automatically in the committee you can not opt out, you do not have attend but you can see the books and bank accounts etc, all grazing assets to be accounted for and kept in good order, a yearly or bi annual plan for repairs and upkeep, etc etc
    What is the problem for the committee to have money in the bank, surely its a good thing, also what is wrong if the committee purchase plant and equipment for the up keep and maintenance of the grazing etc
    It seems to me the Commission is like SNH, all bluster and no legal power, they are just book keepers and administrators of antiquated, jingoistic system that urgently need modern reform.
    For example if I sell my croft, sorry you can not sell a croft – on passing my assignation to a new assignee I will be compensated, what tosh is that about, I paid £75K in compensation to the last tenant, this has no meaning to a bank or mortgage lender which is an utter nonsense. This is holding crofting back, lets say my croft is 60 hectares, a big one I agree, I could raise £100K all day long if it was in my name, like a farm but as I stand all I can do is decroft the land my home stands on and raise money via that route, this is ridiculous because my wife has half ownership of the house but because the antiquated system only allows one person to be the tenant she is now liable for my mismanagement of the croft………….
    As you can imagine I could go on and one but surely we are all intelligent, why do we not raise up against the commission like a rebels and force change, get the banners out…………..gun ho gun ho!!!!!

  11. Ceitidh says:

    The biggest problem in crofting townships from my perspective is absenteeism and inactive crofters. In my experience these are the people who expect to get a cheque at the end of the year for doing nothing and have no shame in dem. That is wrong. All monies paid out on schemes should be reinvested in the infrastructure of the township. There should be no dividends. If people are to make money out of crofting then they should have to actively croft, get soil on their hands, and be responsible for their own income generation. It is wrong that in the current debate the Commission are not supporting those who live and work the land – that should be their overriding principle. The social and humanitarian aspects of crofting are being overlooked and there is no respect for local decision taking which takes into account many softer issues that Acts and Directives cannot cater for. If those who live on and work crofts are persecuted and alienated because of their best efforts to hold crofting townships together then it is the end of crofting. The Commission need to crack down on absenteeism, inactivity, profiteering and asset stripping. That is where the hard line is required. How many absentee/inactive crofters will have returned their census forms having ticked the box to say they are active/resident? Who is checking up on this? There should be a public register posted online showing the results of the survey and local grazings clerks/committees should be asked to verify the information that has been submitted. Perhaps then we might get an honest and true picture of the state of crofting today which in turn would lead to a way forward/action plan for crofting with a chance of success. Townships need to work with the Commission for the greater good of crofting and the Commission need to open up and welcome their input and perhaps create a dedicated forum for such. The Commission should be working for us and with us, not creating an ‘us and them’ situation.
    Asset stripping and profiteering by absentee and inactive crofters, sometimes prior to passing on the remnants of what was once a viable croft, is a serious problem. Solicitors who call themselves ‘crofting solicitors’ but act to support those who wish to asset strip to the detriment of crofting are yet another problem. In my view there are two categories – crofting lawyers who actively work to protect true crofters and crofting, and crofting destroyers, lawyers who support those who have found their way into crofting to profiteer and asset strip. The latter would seem to be past masters at manipulation of the interpretation of the crofting Acts to ensure that there is no clear law on anything thus justifying the rape and pillage of our crofting land asset. Should all croft land be Nationalised? I would support that. Would that extinguish the profiteering element which seems to be today’s root problem? Yes there is much to resolve. Let the debate begin…. but first of all let’s put as much pressure as possible on the Commission to retract their sackings and reinstate the grazings committees so that solutions can be arrived at by dialogue rather than by dictat.

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