A report has found “significant weaknesses” in leadership and governance at the Crofting Commission.
The performance of the Scottish Government agency in 2020/21, which has responsibility for crofting sector regulation, is the subject of a new report by the Auditor General.
The report says there are “significant weaknesses” in the Commission’s leadership and governance arrangements, and a need for improvements in the Commission’s overall business planning.
The report says a poor relationship between the board of the Commission and its senior management staff has manifested itself in several ways – the board expressing a lack of confidence in the Commission’s chief executive; a lack of involvement of the board and its audit and finance committee in the setting of the Commission’s budget; the excessive involvement of the board and former convener in operational decision-making; and concerns about the leadership of the former convener.
“At the core of these issues is a failure to respect established boundaries between the respective roles of the chief executive, convener and board,” said the report.
“This transgression, when combined with a breakdown of trust between the various parties, means that the leadership and governance of the Commission is currently falling below the standards expected of a public body in Scotland.”
The report concludes that there is a need for “significant improvements” in the leadership and governance of the commission, and a “pressing need” to rebuild trust between the chief executive and board of the Commission to ensure the boundaries between both roles are understood and respected.
The chairman of the Scottish Crofting Federation, Donald MacKinnon, described the Auditor General’s report as “very sad” and said the issues at the Commission needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
He said: “The shame is that this translates into a lack of achievement of outcomes, particularly that which we have raised on many occasions about occupation and use of crofts.
“The lack of regulation is threatening the future of this system.”
Crofting Commission chief executive, Bill Barron, said since learning of the Auditor General’s findings the Commission had worked hard to make tangible and positive changes.
He said: “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.”
Rural Affairs Secretary, Mairi Gougeon, said the Scottish Government was working closely with the Crofting Commission and its board to address the issues raised within the report.
She said: “The Commission will publish an improvement plan shortly and we will continue to work closely with it on the implementation of the plan and in delivering core activities.”
Scottish Conservative Shadow Rural Affairs Secretary Rachael Hamilton, said all parties needed to work closely with each other to restore confidence in the Crofting Commission.
She added: “Livelihoods and jobs in the Highlands and islands depend on a well-functioning Commission, not a disinterested public body distracted by infighting and a lack of ambition.”