Crofting House Grant
On my travels round the islands in the last few weeks, matters crofting-related have never been far from most conversations.
A subject which has been raised more often than most has been the level of croft house grant, which has not gone up for some years.
This is something I have raised with the government before, so I was pleased to see that, from April, the maximum grant will go up to £38,000 in the islands.
After considering all the feedback in the consultation, the Scottish Government has introduced new rates which are significantly higher, and mean some crofters will be eligible for more than double the funding available under the old scheme.
Good quality housing is of course essential to help attract and retain people in the islands, and to help crofters fulfil their duty of living on or close to their croft.
There is also a growing appetite for the return of a loan scheme to help crofters build or improve their homes. The government has undertaken to look at this idea, and I have written to the Crofting Minister to seek information on how this might be taken forward.
Credit must be given to the many crofters and organisations who engaged enthusiastically with this process, and made their views and recommendations clear to the Scottish Government.
Still on crofting, there have been widely acknowledged delays to the processing of Basic Payment Scheme payments (the successor to the Single Farm Payment Scheme) and I have already raised the concerns brought to me by a number of individual crofters about this.
Across Scotland, around a third of farmers and crofters have had the first instalment of this years grant paid and, with additional staff working extra hours, this figure is rising. The intention is that as much as possible of the rest will be paid by the end of next month, with everyone else paid by the end of April.
I met recently with Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs about this, and emphasised the concerns raised with me about the delay.
In the last few days, the Government has announced provisions for those experiencing hardship resulting from delays in the system, and Richard Lochhead confirmed that those crofters should contact the helpline on 0300 300 2222 to make a case for their applications being prioritised.
If any crofter wishes to contact me about their own situation I am very willing to pursue it with the Government.
Eaglais Na h-Aoidhe
One of the least widely known - but one of the most impressive - historic sites in the Western Isles is Eaglais na h-Aoidhe (other wise known as the Ui Church, or St Columba’s), in Point.
The church is roofless, but substantially intact, with one half of the building thought to be 12th century and the other 15th century. It contains the grave slabs for various Macleod and Mackenzie chiefs, as well as a number of 18th century and later monuments. It is clearly of national importance.
I mention it because coastal erosion in the last two or three centuries has taken away part of the burial ground to the north of the church and now leaves the church building itself on the very edge of the sea at high tide. Coastal defences which were put in place almost a century ago have started to fail in the last few years.
Urras Eaglais na h-Aoidhe have, along with other agencies locally such as the Stornoway Trust worked hard to preserve the site, and deserve credit for making plans to safeguard the site for the future.
I met with the trust responsible for the site recently, and am very keen to work with all seeking to save this place for the future.
Pictured is Alasdair Allan visiting the Ui Church following concerns raised about the historic site.