MSPs condemn ‘unacceptable weakness’ in Crofting Commission leadership

Holyrood committee concerned about problems within organisation responsible for overseeing Scotland's 20,000 crofts.

‘Unacceptable weakness’ in Crofting Commission leadership condemned by MSPs PA Media

Scotland’s Crofting Commission is dysfunctional with “unacceptable weakness” in its leadership, a Holyrood committee has warned.

Auditor General for Scotland Stephen Boyle found “significant weaknesses in the commission’s leadership and governance” in his examination of the regulator last year.

Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee has now said it is extremely concerned by the significant and persistent problems within the organisation responsible for overseeing Scotland’s 20,000 crofts.

In a report published on Monday, the committee concluded that neither the Crofting Commission nor the Scottish Government had acted on concerns raised back in 2016, while there has been a critical breakdown in trust between the organisation’s board and its chief executive.

“We find the weaknesses in leadership and governance identified by the Auditor General for Scotland at the Crofting Commission to be unacceptable,” the report said.

The committee found that despite the Government giving evidence that it is “aware that there were some tensions between the board and the staff”, MSPs found it was not “sufficiently alive to the seriousness of the governance issues”.

Problems include uncertainty about roles and relationships within the organisation that has caused the board to have a lack of confidence in the Crofting Commission chief executive and has “contributed to a significant breakdown of trust”.

Commenting on the publication of the report, committee convener Richard Leonard 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 commission’s role is to regulate crofting and promote the interests of croft communities.

It is a non-departmental public body (NDPB) which operates on a day-to-day basis independently of the Government, but for which Scottish ministers are ultimately responsible.

Following the Audit Scotland report, rural affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon said: “We are working closely with the Crofting Commission and its board to address the issues raised within the report.

“We will, of course, consider carefully and address any matters relating to Scottish Government and its sponsorship of the Crofting Commission.

“The commission will publish an improvement plan shortly and we will continue to work closely with it on implementation of the plan and in delivering core activities.”

In October, chief executive of the commission, Bill Barron, said: “Since the commission were made aware of the concerns from the auditors, we have worked exceptionally hard to make tangible and positive changes.

“We have developed an action plan and have, in just a few months, addressed over half of the points raised and have made good progress on others.”

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