Comhairle nan Eilean Siar representatives raised a number of crofting concerns with Environment Minister, Aileen Mcleod, when she visited Uist earlier this week.
Councillors Uisdean Robertson and Donald Crichton met with the Minister to reiterate the Comhairle’s position on the Crofter Housing Grant Scheme and addressing the issue of delayed basic payments to crofters.
Councillor Robertson, Chair of the Comhairle’s Crofting JCC said: “This was a useful meeting in which the Minister listened carefully and with interest to the issues we raised. We were able to bring before the Minister our concern that there is no new money for this scheme and that we have seen the budget for it cut in half over the last ten years.
“We welcomed the proposals to reintroduce the loan element to the scheme.
“It is important that the loan is available without the need to de-croft as is the case with the current scheme.
“We made clear to the Minister that the administration and delivery of the loan scheme should be additional new money so as not to put pressure on an over-subscribed grant scheme.”
Councillor Crichton, Vice Chair of the Comhairle’s Sustainable Development Committee said: “We were grateful for the opportunity to meet with the Minister following the findings of the review of the Crofter Housing Scheme being published.
“However, on further examination of the Government’s proposals we have concerns that while there is an increase in the grant from £23,000 to £38,000 the overall budget has not been increased which could mean that fewer crofters benefit from the new scheme than the present one.
“Added to that with new criteria being introduced including assessing household income there is the possibility more people could also face being ineligible for the grant.
“We reiterated to Ms McLeod that an increased budget for the scheme would be a huge investment for providing a sustainable future for crofting and that there would be multiple positive economic impacts for our communities.
“We are looking forward to selection criteria guidance being published and for more clarification from the Minister on the points that we raised.”
The councillors also raised concerns about the delay in basic payments to crofters.
They said it was unacceptable that crofters were now having to use overdraft facilities to cover urgent cash-flow requirements and that It was a compensation scheme that should be in place and not a loan scheme.
It was crucial that processing of payments commenced as soon as possible and they called on the Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead to respond to the concerns the Comhairle had raised earlier in the New Year.
Uisdean Robertson also raised with the Minister the issue of funding for the Goose schemes that are coming to an end.
He said: “The adaptive management pilot scheme for greylag geese in Uist has made a helpful contribution to minimising damage to crops caused by greylags.
“It is regrettable that after a couple of successful years of operation under the auspices of SGRPID, the pilot scheme will come to an end next Spring. To ensure that numbers are kept under control, and in the absence of financial support to run the schemes, it is essential that the ban on selling Goose meat is relaxed.
“It can be sold locally under the current derogation but to be sustainable and effective to support the continued control of the goose population a further relaxation of the regulations is required. We also discussed the increasing issue of barnacle geese and we had a brief discussion on ferries.”