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Crofters have raised a raft of concerns with the new minister for rural affairs, including ‘obstacles’ to grants and the end of funding for goose management, which, if left uncontrolled, could severely damage agriculture and disrupt island airports.
The chairman of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Joint Crofting Consultative Committee, councillor Donald Crichton, wrote to Mairi Gougeon MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, regarding a host of issues raised by the crofting sector at its recent meeting.
Reflecting the recent concerns about the difficulties and obstacles encountered by crofters accessing crofting grants, councillor Crichton requested more detailed information from the minister regarding the administration of the Crofting Counties Agricultural Grant Scheme (CCAGS).
Mr Crichton wrote: ‘Members would like to understand better how the CCAGS scheme performs in the Outer Hebrides and would like detailed information on the following:
‘The number of applications submitted to the local offices in Balivanich and Stornoway. How many applications were rejected, with a summary of the main reasons for refusal. The average time to process a CCAGS application. The length of time taken to process payments. The budget provision for the CCAGS scheme and whether it was fully utilised.’
Councillor Crichton asked the minister if a reported underspend in the Crofter Housing Grant Scheme, which supports crofters seeking to build or renovate their croft houses, would be rolled over to next year. ‘It has been reported that £1.24m of the £1.9m national budget was drawn down in the last financial year,’ he said.
Councillor Crichton also expressed crofters’ disappointment at the removal of funding for the Goose Management Scheme, saying: ‘There are real concerns that goose populations will rapidly increase and damage to traditional agricultural activities will be severe if numbers are not controlled, further exacerbating challenges faced by the sector in continuing in agricultural production at a time of great uncertainty around future funding schemes to replace the CAP.
‘There are also wider implications affecting the operation of the islands airports that could impact wildlife management around the islands’ airports if the resident population continues to grow uncontrolled.’
Meanwhile, the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) welcomed assurances given by Msi Gougeon regarding continued government support and commitments to reforms to strengthen the future of crofting.
‘The Cabinet Secretary gave a very up-beat address to the SCF AGM,’ said Donald MacKinnon, chair of the SCF. ‘She tackled issues of concern to crofters, head-on, and reaffirmed commitments the government has made.
‘A topical issue is the enforcement of duties in order to ensure occupation and use of crofts, and, in doing so, creating further opportunities for new entrants to crofting. As well as increasing the capacity of the Crofting Commission ‘Residency and Land Use’ team and on-the-ground presence through new development posts in the Western Isles, the government is taking action on its own crofting estates to enforce duties and create opportunities for new entrants.
Mr MacKinnon continued: ‘The Cabinet Secretary acknowledged the disappointment felt by many that crofting law reform did not feature in the Programme for Government this year. She reiterated that she is committed to taking the reform through parliament in this session.
‘The withdrawal of funding assistance to manage the control of goose populations, especially in the Western Isles, was raised as a matter of great concern”, said Mr MacKinnon. ‘We welcome the Cabinet Secretary’s suggestion of a meeting to find an appropriate solution to this problem.
‘All in all it felt a very positive meeting,’ Mr MacKinnon concluded. ‘Ms Gougeon seems to be very proactive and we were left feeling optimistic that action will be taking place on these issues, and the others that were discussed.’