The management of the Crofting Commission, which is headquartered in Inverness, has been criticized by MSPs for serious weaknesses in leadership and governance which have led to a breakdown in trust in the public agency.
In a report released today, Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee is concerned that the Crofting Commission has fallen below the standards expected of a public body.
The report warns that neither the Scottish Government nor the Crofting Commission have acted to address serious concerns first raised in an independent external governance review commissioned by the Scottish Government in 2016.
The review highlighted concerns that Scotland’s Auditor General says remain today, including differences of opinion and a lack of shared goals among commissioners.
The committee has issued a statement saying it is very concerned about the recurrence of these issues and therefore seeks to reassure both organizations that lessons will be learned to prevent this from happening again in the future.
The report also highlights the lack of clarity of roles and responsibilities that has led to a breakdown of trust over the past year between the CEO and the board. The committee is now seeking clarification from the Scottish Government on its plans to support the rebuilding of these relationships.
The committee also expressed concern that the performance issues regarding the former Commission official, identified by the auditor, had not been detected and addressed at the time by the Scottish government. The Scottish Government is asked to confirm that effective monitoring and tracking arrangements are now in place.
Committee leader Richard Leonard MSP said: ‘It is incredibly disappointing that neither the Scottish Government nor the Crofting Commission have taken sufficient action to prevent the recurrence of serious problems highlighted as far back as 2016.
“The Committee remains gravely concerned that these problems will continue to recur unless, this time, lessons are drawn and learned quickly.
“We welcome the fact that there is now an action plan in place to change things, but what we also demand is a change in culture.
“When the new board is elected next month, it will need to build a strong relationship with the Scottish Government and avoid the day-to-day running of the Commission – focusing instead on transparency, openness and accountability to communities. of crofting it serves.”
The report prompted Rhoda Grant, Labor MSP for the Highlands and Islands, to call for a broader review of government structures.
She commented: “This report is extremely concerning and highlights that there are people in government, boards and organizations who do not clearly understand their role or responsibilities. This led to the Scottish government interfering and undermining the boards, resulting in a lack of leadership and a lack of clarity.
“Crofting in the Highlands and Islands is a huge economic driver that is keeping people and fighting depopulation. It is disappointing and concerning that no real improvement has been made to improve the Crofting Commission since concerns were raised and I would like this to be addressed urgently to prevent this from happening again.
“That’s why I think it would be best to review those governance structures so that the roles within the Crofting Commission – and other bodies – are clear and its relationship to their board and government Scottish are clearly defined.”