Finance Black Hole in Crofting Proposals
22 March 2010
A £4 million black hole in the Crofters Commission budget to cope with duties put on them under the new Crofting Bill has appeared.
This follows new evidence to the Rural Affairs Committee of Parliament, leading to concerns that newly proposed charges on crofters will have to rise dramatically to fund any deficit.
Ministers have set their face against any increase in budget for the Crofters Commission to undertake the additional work they are being required to undertake by the new Bill and have claimed there is no need for new cash - a claim now `blown apart' by the extra evidence submitted to the Committee by the Commission.
The extra evidence was sought by the Committee after Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Peter Peacock pressed the Commission on costs at an earlier Committee meeting.
The Commission have now revealed that to deal with the potential number of cases of neglected croft land could cost over £4 million.
Peter Peacock said: "This has been a startling revelation and has blown apart earlier claims from the Government that there would be no extra costs involved.
"The revelations have very major implications for the workability of the Government's proposals.
"The Government have been making it clear their priority and this Bill is all about absenteeism and neglect.
"They have raised expectations that action on neglect and absenteeism will help open up land for new entrants for crofting.
"However, it is now clear the Commission will not have the resources to deal with the new duties to tackle neglect.
"The Minister also made it clear under questioning that the Commission could minimise cost, depending on the pace at which they proceeded with action against those neglecting croft land.
"So, far from the proposed Bill dealing with neglected land any time soon, it now looks like it could take decades.
"Even if you took the Commissionís lower estimate of the potential scale of the problem and spread the action over the next 10 years, it would still cost the Commission £400,000 a year, and that is money they simply don't have.
"No wonder crofters are alarmed at the prospect of having to pay new charges to the Commission under another proposal in this Bill.
"They will be rightly concerned that any deficit in the Commission's budget might be made up by hiking charges higher and higher.
"It is increasingly clear this Bill is going to do little for crofting but add cost onto crofters at a time when there is little or no cash in crofting."
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