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A Lewis grazings committee has been sacked by the Crofting Commission in the latest stage of a row over the management of communal moorland.


All eight crofters on Upper Coll grazings committee have been thrown out of office in what is seen as a rare and extreme move.


It follows four or five crofters lodging formal complaints accusing commission convenor, Colin Kennedy, of unfair and biased conduct while chairing a meeting in the district held to hear what the commission later called the "complexity of issues" raised by two local crofters against the committee.



Grazings committee sacked by Crofting Commission

22 April 2016  

The commission did not tell the committee or crofters about the purpose of the meeting.

Outgoing committee members accused the sacking as "dictatorial, vindictive and unjustified."

Allegations of "bully-boy tactics" and a "hidden agenda" have been directed at the crofting regulator.

The firing comes after the committee was censured after two shareholders complained it was not conducting its duties properly.

The committee had not distributed income from the sale of feus to individual crofters as required under the 1993 Crofter's Act. Instead the cash was banked in the township fund.

The commission said the soumings apply to the whole of the common grazings and any informal division into parks must demonstrably be for the better management of the grazings for the benefit of all active shareholders.  It pointed out the committee has the authority to do “everything requisite” to manage the grazings.

Any substantial under-utilisation of the grazings could be resolved by allowing active crofters to graze more livestock than the village limit. However, this cannot be done without permission from the committee, stressed the commission.  

Applying a levy selectively on stockholders for maintenance works was in breach of the rules.

Three months was allowed for the grazing committee to implement five main action points. It was granted a further month to get the last five years accounts externally audited.

The commission fired the committee after rejecting the financial audit undertaken by Stornoway-based CIB accountants, claiming the submitted documents lacked sufficient detail, despite discussions over what was required between the independent chartered accountant and commission officials.

Commission grazings manager Linda Gourlay wrote to the committee saying: “Taking this into account, and given the fact that the information does not include any resumption monies understood to have been received during the five year period, and given the fact that the level of information is not sufficiently detailed to analyse, the commission consider the requirements not to have been met.

“The commission therefore removes the grazings clerk and grazings committee from office with immediate effect.”

Calum Maclean, grazings clerk since 1997, said they had provided all the details, which had been submitted and unanimously agreed at shareholders meetings every year.

The accountants confirmed that these were a correct representation of the village's income and expenditure, he said.

Mr Maclean said the grazings committee had bent over backwards to meet all the commission's requirements and were totally shocked that not only would they not accept the accountants figures but that they had sacked the committee with immediate effect.

"We have done everything the commission asked us to do. We don't understand what more the commission wanted," he said.

"The attitude shown by convener Colin Kennedy when he met with shareholders last year has left us worried that there is some hidden agenda, which we don't understand.

He continued: "'The commission has not asked a single grazings committee in the whole of the crofting townships to provide such information in the last five years.

"Why they have picked on us is an unanswered puzzle.

"We understand them asking us to provide an independent assessment of our books, but we don't understand why they won't accept the independent figures presented."

He added: ''The commission has to be asked what they seek to achieve with their 19th century landlord attitude.

"The grazings committee was summarily put out of office in one day without recourse to appeal and with no explanation as to the “crime” we had committed.

"Which crofting law are we in breach off?"

Kenneth Macdonald, who was the chairman of the deposed grazings committee stated: "Our village was formed in the face of threats in the 1920s.

"We are proud of the way the village has been managed all these years and are not impressed by the bully boy tactics that have been shown by the Crofting Commission." 

A commission spokesperson said: "As this is a live and on-going case we cannot comment further than to explain that, action in this case resulted from an approach to the Crofting Commission by shareholders in the Upper Coll Grazings, asking the commission to investigate issues relating to the functioning of the grazings committee, in terms of Section 47(8) of the Crofting Acts. The Commission will investigate when requests of this nature are brought to us by shareholders.

"In this case, there are a number of options for shareholders to consider and the commission is intending to hold an early meeting with the shareholders to present these options to them. It would not, therefore, be appropriate to discuss these with a third party before a discussion has taken place with the shareholders themselves. The commission will shortly be writing to shareholders to explain this."