‘Draconian rules’ of crofting chiefs

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Members of the dismissed Upper Coll Grazings committee have this week forecast that many other committees will find themselves unable to satisfy the new ‘draconian demands’ of the Crofting Commission.

Calum Maclean, former grazings clerk, believes that if the level of record keeping and vigilance in Upper Coll was not sufficient to meet the conditions now being imposed by the Commission under convener Colin Kennedy, he is confident that those held by many other committees would not be either.

The only conclusion he feels that can be drawn from new guidelines is that the commission wanted to see the demise of Grazings committees.

The entire Upper Coll Grazings Committee was removed from their posts by the Crofting Commission in a controversial move apparently due to their failure to produce “audited” accounts for the past five years.

“As a result of complaints by two half shareholders who would not accept the village regulations, which everyone else abided by, the Commission held a shareholder’s meeting at which the opening statement of Colin Kennedy, declared their power to dismiss us as a committee,” he said.

“They then proceeded to insist we dismantle the way we had successfully run the grazings for nearly 100 years.”

Former grazings committee chairman Kenneth Macdonald said: “Not withstanding our view that much of what they demanded was totally unreasonable and beyond their power to demand, we carried out all their demands to the extent of employing professional accountants.

“They wouldn’t accept our accountant’s clean bill of health for five years and summarily dismissed us in spite of never having met the clerk or the committee to establish facts. In the past five years no other committee has been asked for this type of audit.

“The Commission are actually under legal obligation to give assistance and advice in the first instance; Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993, section 48, paragraph 7, so they have clearly failed in their duty of care, and furthermore have taken to themselves powers not given under law.

“In the same section titled ‘Powers and Duties of Grazings Committees’, such duties which fall under the authority of the commission are clearly listed.

“In the previous section 47 and paragraph 8 it can be seen that their power of dismissal applies only to the duties listed in section 48, none of which demands that the Grazing’s committee produce audited accounts.”

Calum Maclean continued: “We still don’t know why they dismissed us. We have shown our minute book and our accounts book to our MP, council leaders and councillors and have been able to demonstrate that all the figures they say they require are there had the commission asked for them.

“The local commissioner Murdo Maclennan was given the opportunity to examine them and he refused.”

Kenneth Macdonald explained: “This goes much further than Upper Coll, however.

“This is a direct challenge to the role of Grazings committees. How can any Grazing’s committee anywhere carry out any developments when the Commission is now demanding they hold no reserves?

“What has happened to their policy about absentees? They insist that we divide any monies we received from feu resumptions and send them to tenants anywhere in the world.

“We hope people understand that what has happened to us could very soon be happening to them.

“There has to be an enquiry into the workings of this new aggressive, dictatorial, bullying Commission to establish whether they are working on their own without sufficient guidance or whether there is a determination within Government to get rid of crofting forever.”

Referring to the front page article in last week’s Gazette he added: “In our view grazings improvements and regulations are for the betterment of all shareholders and not for one person who regards the improvements as his own.

“If developed parks can sustain 180 sheep or equivalent on a rotational basis, it is essential that all shareholders abide by the rules established by the majority, drawn up for the benefit of all.”