Duty to report consultation shows surprising results

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The consultation recently conducted by the Crofting Commission into the Duty to Report form has shown a surprising divergence of opinions.

While some welcome the form and see it as their opportunity to report on the problems which affect their township, others are very negative, seeing the form as representing a threat to grazing committees which might result in committees disbanding.

The Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 places several new compulsory requirements on crofters, which the Crofting Commission must implement in its regulatory role. One of these is the duty placed on grazing committees to report to the Commission once every five years.

As Convener Susan Walker explained at the organisation’s Board meeting on May 14th, these concerns have been uppermost in the thoughts of the Commission over the last 18 months.

She said: “The discussion we had at the Board meeting was the culmination of continuous efforts on our part to create a ‘Duty to Report’ form that is not onerous to complete and that places grazing committees in the driving seat, allowing them to identify any issues of concern in the township that they would like the Commission to address.”

Consultation on the implementation of the new duty began back in November 2012, at the annual conference of crofting Assessors.

As a result of positive suggestions from Assessors, the initial draft form was revised and, in October last year a consultation was launched, to take in the views of grazing committees and other interested parties.

At the Commission Board meeting today, the outcome of the consultation was discussed, with Commissioners considering a detailed report into the 132 responses.

The majority of the responses were from grazing committees and one of the results noted by the Commission was that 53 or 50% of the grazing committees who responded actually completed the ‘Duty to Report’ form with information about their township.

“This is one of the surprising outcomes of the consultation,” says Susan Walker. “We have heard reports in the press that grazing committees will boycott the ‘Duty to Report’, but here we are with examples of committees who have completed the draft form, providing us with township information even though they were not required to do so at this point.

“This indicates that for these committees at least, the form was not problematic and there was a willingness to complete it. The overall results of the consultation also show the highest percentage responses were either positive or had no concerns with the majority of the form.”

The Duty to Report form itself will be split into four sections. For part one, grazing committees will be asked to complete general information about the grazings and township; in part two, committees will be asked to complete information on such things as the number of grazing shares being used, to the best of their ability. Part three provides an opportunity for committees to let the Crofting Commission know what their plans are for the common grazing or to alert the Commission to any concerns they have over the future of the grazing.

For Area Commissioner Murdo MacLennan this is one of the key aspects of the form and could be of considerable benefit as evidence of the state of crofting.

He said: “The information grazing committees can provide us with in the form will help us to work with our partners and highlight crofting issues to Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Parliament.

“With the information it gives us, we can build up a clear overall picture of crofting in the Western Isles and throughout the crofting counties. With this evidence, we will be able to make the case for crofting much more easily and show the threats facing it, as well as its value to Scotland as a whole.”

The final part of the form will be voluntary, allowing grazing committees to highlight specific concerns they may have if they are worried about misuse, neglect or absenteeism in their township.

As Murdo MacLennan explains: “This is the part of the form that seems to have created the greatest anxiety but the onus here will be on the committee to report on what they feel is appropriate.

“The form allows grazing committees to make representations to the Commission if they wish to raise concerns and in this way, those concerns can be addressed for the good of the crofting community.

“So it is only where committees have themselves identified worrying issues in their townships that they may choose to use the form to alert us to those issues. The ability to do something is really in the hands of the local committees.”

Convener Susan Walker said: “The consultation on the Duty to Report form has been a valuable exercise. We’ve taken on board some of the very useful practical suggestions for improvements to the form.

“What it tells us is that we will need to make sure that the accompanying guidance explains clearly to grazing committees how to fill it in and that they have nothing to worry about from this form.”

It is expected that the first Duty to Report forms will be sent out in late 2014/early 2015. Copies of the consultation report can be requested by contacting the Crofting Commission on info@crofting.scotland.gov.uk