MSP Tavish Scott has written to environment minister Michael Russell to report to him the outcome of the four meetings he held last week to hear the views of Shetland crofters on the recommendations made in the Shucksmith report into the future of crofting.
Mr Scott advised the minister that “there are many sensible and agreed recommendations in the Shucksmith report in respect of support and agricultural subsidies and that there is good work on housing”.
But he has warned that “crofters in Shetland want to see the Crofters Commission retained with a beefed up remit enacting the powers and responsibilities that it has”.
Mr Scott first referred to the section of the report which won a broad welcome in Shetland, that relating to agricultural support through schemes such as Single Farm Payment, Less Favoured Area Support Scheme and Land Management Options.
He urged the minister to take forward these recommendations which would direct funding to areas in greatest need of support, such as the islands. He also passed on the support given to the proposal that all crofters – tenants and owner-occupiers – should be the same in terms of law, grants and crofting policy.
Turning to the Shucksmith recommendation on funding the Crofting Housing grant, he told the minister that this is also seen as a step forward.
Mr Scott wrote: “I have long been of the view that government investment in such housing is a sensible and strategic investment as it reduces pressure on local authority and housing association waiting lists. It also gives young people the opportunity to build in their area and reduces the remorseless drift of the rural areas to the main towns across the crofting counties.
“This is especially important given your Government’s decision to cut the grants available to rural housing associations such as Hjaltland in Shetland meaning that they will build less homes in the next three financial years than before.”
Mr Scott reported that a third recommendation, that the Register of Scotland should map all crofts and maintain this mapping, was also welcomed. But he sought confirmation that the government would be meeting the registrar’s costs when undertaking and maintaining the survey. And he sought assurances that reports that the government intends to meet the costs by the abolition of the Bull Scheme are not correct.
On the proposal to split the functions of the Crofters Commission, creating local boards and abolishing the Commission itself, Mr Scott wrote: “Crofters in Shetland are not convinced that a local crofting board will work.”