Concerns have been raised in Holyrood about the leadership and governance of the Crofting Commission, which regulates crofting in Scotland.
This follows an audit of the organization in October 2021 when management was criticized for blurring the roles of chief executive, convener and board, resulting in a breach of trust.
The Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit Committee says it is extremely concerned about “significant and persistent weaknesses in leadership and governance arrangements”, which have seen the committee fall below the standards expected of a public body.
In a report released on Monday, the commission is concerned that these leadership and governance failures, identified in the Audit Scotland report, have led to a breakdown in trust in the organisation.
But the Crofting Commission said this week it had already taken steps to address many of the audit’s findings, with an increase in staff and a new cadre in place.
The MSP report says 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 included in his report last year, including differences of opinion and a lack of shared goals among commissioners.
The committee is very concerned about the recurrence of these issues and seeks to reassure both organizations that lessons will be learned to prevent this from happening again in the future.
The report states: “We are clear that effective leadership is essential to the delivery of high quality public services that meet the needs of the users of these services and also offer good value for money.
“We find the leadership and governance weaknesses identified by Scotland’s Auditor General at the Crofting Commission to be unacceptable.”
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 seeking clarification from the Scottish Government on its plans to support the rebuilding of these relationships.
The committee added that it is dismayed that the performance issues relating to the former head of the commission, identified by the auditor, were not detected and acted upon at the time by the Scottish Government.
Speaking when the report was released, committee leader Richard Leonard, a Labor MSP, said: ‘It is hugely disappointing that neither the Scottish Government nor the Crofting Commission have taken sufficient action to avert the recurrence serious problems highlighted as early as 2016.
“The committee remains gravely concerned that these issues will continue to recur unless, this time, lessons are learned and learned quickly.
“We welcome the fact that there is now an action plan in place to turn things around, but what we are also demanding is a change in culture.
“When the new board is elected next month, it will need to forge strong relationships 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 they serve. ”
The Crofting Commission said this week that it “immediately acknowledged” the issues raised by the October audit and that its board and staff had met to address the shortcomings highlighted.
Malcolm Mathieson, Head of the Crofting Commission, said: “The issues that have been highlighted in this report, along with the views and concerns expressed by MSPs, are a reminder that the organization was not working as it should.
“While it is disappointing that the committee has chosen to link this to concerns raised in 2016, we have evolved and improved considerably and I hope this is evident to all concerned.
“As an indication of the government’s confidence in the commission, the recent announcement of the Scottish Government’s budget allocated additional funds, which will allow us to better serve crofters.
Bill Barron, CEO of the Crofting Commission, added: “Clarity of roles was a key audit concern. To provide this clarity, we published a new framework document last month which has been approved by the board, management and the sponsor.
“The increase in staff and the upcoming changes in structures within the organization, as well as the steady progress we have already made towards improvement, illustrate that we are working in a positive way with auditors and elected officials.
“The commission will continue to work to improve our service to crofters and our organization as a whole.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Following the initial publication of Audit Scotland’s report, the Scottish Government has worked closely with the Crofting Commission and its Board to address the issues raised in the report.
“We will now examine the findings of the Public Audit Committee report in more detail to ensure that we can collectively take the right steps to secure a sustainable future for our smallholder communities.
“The Scottish Government is strongly committed to the future of micro-farming and the role it plays in sustaining rural and island communities. Over the coming year, many actions contained in the National Development Plan for Micro-Farms will be implemented as part of our reform activity, including improvements to programs that support existing micro-farms. and news. »