Yesterday the Daily Telegraph published an article (pdf here online here) based on an interview with David Johnstone, the Chair of Scottish Land and Estates (SLE). Mr Johnstone has been a frequent contributor to the media arguing the case on behalf of the members of his organisation. This is all just grand.
However, in his media appearances and in this article he makes a number of claims that don’t appear to accord with the evidence available.
On 2 December 2014, he was interviewed by James Naughtie on the Today programme. I do not have a transcript of the interview and it is no longer available online but shortly afterwards I received two emails. One was from a civil servant and the other from a Parliamentary official. They both asked me if I had heard the interview and if I knew of any evidence to back up his claim. I said I hadn’t but I then listened online. Mr Johnstone made a claim that the extent of absentee ownership of Scottish land was very small. As I don’t have the transcript I cannot be sure of his exact words but the impression was clearly given that absentee ownership of land was very modest. He was not challenged on this by Mr Naughtie. So what do we know?
One study by Edinburgh University conducted 2000-2002 looked only at hunting estates. Of 218 estates that were studied, 66% were owned by absentee owners. This is illustrated on the map below. Another source of data that I am aware of is from a study by Armstrong and Mather from 1983 which examined landownership in the Scottish Highlands which found evidence that approximately 50% of owners live outwith the region. (1)
A study of forest ownership found that 55% of the privately-owned forest area was owned by absentee owners. Research may be limited but it does suggest that absenteeism is not the very modest phenomenon that Mr Johnstone alleged that it was.
Yesterday’s article in the Daily Telegraph contains a further unsubstantiated allegation.
He told the Telegraph that,
..most estates make little or no profit…..
I know of no evidence to support this statement (which is not to say it is untrue of course).
There is very little information on profitability. Scottish Land and Estates conducted a significant study on the economic impact of estates but (rather curiously) chose not to gather data on profitability. (2) In Savills’ Scottish Estates Benchmarking Survey 2013, it was reported that,
Rural assets continue to outperform alternative assets and our survey again records a healthy investment performance on ‘All Estates’
In the year to 5th April 2013 the average Total Return for ‘All Estates’ in Scotland for all Let Property was 10.8%, the sum of a net income return of 1.3% and capital growth of 9.5% (see graph below)
In an interesting observation of the political process, Mr Johnstone said,
many MSPs and some ministers lavish high praise on the estates in their constituencies only to lambast landowners when they are at Holyrood…he said there was a gulf between SNP and Labour MSPs telling landowners in their constituencies they are the “good guys” and their “aggressive” rhetoric on a national stage where all the praise is “forgotten”.
SLE has indeed invited a significant number of MSPs to visit landholdings owned by its members but Mr Johnstone takes a rather naive view of the political process and confuses the role of MSPs as representatives of their constituents and as legislators. An MSP visiting an estate in their constituency is very unlikely to criticise the owner unless for very good reason. As a constituent, they are as entitled as any other to have their views and opinions heard with respect. A good constituency MSP will seek to do what they can to resolve any problems or issues the constituent has. If I were an MSP I would happily visit landowners and seek to assist them in any way I could.
However, MSPs are also legislators and those who are members of the SNP are relied upon to secure support for Government business in the Scottish Parliament. It is perfectly consistent for an MSP to, on the one hand, visit constituents and represent them and, on the other, to speak frankly about the iniquities of the system by which Scotland’s land is held. Winston Churchill put it very well.
I hope you will understand that, when I speak of the land monopolist, I am dealing more with the process than with the individual land owner who, in most cases, is a worthy person utterly unconscious of the character of the methods by which he is enriched. I have no wish to hold any class up to public disapprobation. I do not think that the man who makes money by unearned increment in land is morally worse than anyone else who gathers his profit where he finds it in this hard world under the law and according to common usage. It is not the individual I attack; it is the system. It is not the man who is bad; it is the law which is bad. It is not the man who is blameworthy for doing what the law allows and what other men do; it is the State which would be blameworthy if it were not to endeavor to reform the law and correct the practice.
We do not want to punish the landlord. We want to alter the law.
Mr Johnstone concluded,
People equate the idea of owning the land with having the ability to release all this money, and the income is all going to come flowing in. But it doesn’t happen – landowners aren’t sitting there stifling investment.
They are doing everything they can do to generate the income in these places. It’s not bloody easy.
If you say so.
(1) Armstrong, AM & Mather, AS, (1983) Land Ownership and Land Use in the Scottish Highlands. O’Dell Memorial Monograph No. 13. University of Aberdeen.
(2) See Economic Contribution of Estates in Scotland
Its not easy to make a living when anything of any value is owned by folk who not only do not live here and in fact are tax exiled some where nice, while desperate familys wonder where the next pound is coming from to pay for the ever increasing demands for public services that they can not enjoy for lack access ,there may be strong evidence of 50% absentee owners but any one who lives in the Highlands can tell you its far higher.
There’s no doubt that most sporting estates don’t make much – if any – profit. They provide their owners, their families and friends, and some sporting tenants, with enjoyment, and that’s about it after the bills are paid. But what has to be taken into account is the value of the estate itself. It’s not surprising that land ownership continues to be highly desirable as an investment. You could compare it with a Mayfair flat. You don’t expect it to make money. You expect it to confer status, but also to keep its value.
Alistair, you are correct that the consumption of services is usually absent from any accounts. By definition, of course, if you spend, say £40k per year running a sporting estate or a yacht or whatever, that is a price you are paying to consume a flow of benefits. It is meaningless to say that it makes no money. When I buy a CD and listen to music it makes no money for me either.
The other important point is that, in a number of cases I have studied where figures have been made available, the capital appreciation even after inflation more than pays for annual defecits and that is before any taxation benefits (business rollover relief, offshoring) etc is taken into account.
It is a very long while ago that I studied any agricultural economics, but there were if I remember categories such as landlords’ capital (and returns on that capital) as well as working capital (often tenants’ capital). The latter was the capital typically borrowed to allow the purchase of all inputs – the means of production for that year- until harvests were sold. Thus ‘profit’ could be calculated as the difference between ‘return’ and the cost of borrowing the outlay. The tenant’s time and labour could be counted as a special part of input costs, if I remember.
Landlords’ capital was the infrastructure already in existence from previous capital investment, or was capital (currently borrowed) invested in newer infrastructure with an expected future return; everything from buildings to drains to private roads. The yearly costs of maintaining these ‘capital’ structures or of borrowing costs could be defrayed by ‘rent’, itself a component of the yearly costs that needed to be met by returns on ‘tenants’ capital.
Back in the long ago, a return on landlords’ capital in the British agricultural economy of around 2% was considered normal enough and healthy. Is the 1.3% ‘return’ shown by Savills Research for the period to 2013 comparable with what I have sketched in for landlords’ capital? If so, in a time apparently of very low income returns on capital assets, this 1.3% could be considered a good enough return on investment?
Of course, the capital gains on wealth are the main attraction in the recent boom in land price, perhaps also with perception of lower risk. Estates across Britain have seen a boom in land values because of competitive demand for these assets.
It would be nice if your collection of CDs continued to grow in value as a saleable asset that could act as collateral for leveraged purchase of ever more desirable assets? Or am I way off-beam in seeing land values, especially of large estates of minimally farmed tracts of such vast extent, changing hands perhaps among international syndicates or funds as investment vehicles?
There are some corrections needed to your statement.
The historic “landlords capital” you describe was not provided by the landlord at all, but by generations of short lease tenants who enclosed, drained,and made the fields we see today. They also put at least 30% of the capital into the buildings, and were made to pay capital repayments and interest on the balance.
After they were sequestrated for debt or evicted(same difference) the landlord then assumed ownership of it all.
And laughed all the way to the leeds.
The question of profit is a bit of a red herring since many of them are not run for profit in the way of a normal business. I doubt if the Qatari royal family will be too worried about maximising the profit (or the employment, or the community economic benefits) at Cluny as opposed to ensuring privacy and prestige. So the chairman of the SLF might well be right when he says most sporting estates are not profitable, or only marginally so. It’s just that it is the completely wrong measure to judge anything by.
Brian, as you know, the answer depends on the question. 7:84 comes into it. Profit can be irrelevant. The ultra rich have little interest in profit as the plebs understand it. They do have every interest in retaining the status quo. It’s the system which upsets the plebs. There are some delightful landowners, but they should not be equated with the system which sustains them. As a politician, of course you know that!
Sorry, I wasn’t going to post again.
Brian, the SLF has not existed for a long time as I am sure you well know. And I’m not talking about the guys who belted out the greats such as Alternative Ulster. I agree with you that the Quatari Royal family might not put profit first in the running of the estate they have purchased in Scotland, indeed that is probably quite obvious to most observers. What I would say is look at where similar investors have bought estates and businesses in Scotland – they can demonstrate clearly the local employment and economic benefits from the introduction of such significant investment outwith the estate. So please give credit where it is due and don’t prejudge people. Separate to that, most landowners in Scotland are nothing like the Quatari Royal family and it is about time that the huge range and scale of people who own and run land based businesses in Scotland was recognised.
Like brians comment i meant.
Great quote from Sir Winston Churchill! I’m sure lots of SLE members would concur (maybe just some …)
do you mean ‘land monopoly is the mother of all other monopolies’ ?
Methinks he doth protest to much. If these estates were such unprofitable ventures they would off-load them fast.
I have just retired having spent the last 20+ years running Invercauld Estate near Braemar. So hopefully have some knowledge of the issues. It is difficult to tell from the map but I suspect Invercauld and Balmoral are shown in red as “baddies”. Surely the important thing here is who manages the land and how accessible they are to interested parties. Both Estates have resident Estate managers who are 100% accountable for what goes on. I was very widely known, accessible, attended Community Council, lived locally etc. if anyone was unhappy with my response to a question, the names of trustees was freely available. I assume that Mar Lodge is not shown in red on the map, but one could argue that NTS is very much “absentee ownership”. However there is a resident manager there too who is very accountable and accessible. Over the years Mar Lodge has received far more flack from the locals than the “private” Estates, although in recent years peace seems to have broken out!
Invercauld employs around 25 staff so is a significant employer in the local community. Most have young families who attend the local school etc. Over half of these employees are gamekeepers who are funded by shooting sportsmen who almost exclusively earn their income outside Scotland but choose to spend it in Scotland because they really appreciate the scenery, culture and sport that Scotland provides. If shooting sports were made non viable or too expensive or maybe even outlawed , then Scotland`s remote fragile communities would loose very significant inward investment and the countryside would undoubtedly suffer. On an average grouse shoot day around 40/60 local people are employed, draw a wage packet which then gets spent locally and are only there because they really enjoy being there. The socalled rich sportmen enjoy their day, but so do all the beaters, keepers, dogmen etc who are only there because they want to be.
It is very difficult indeed to make a profit as costs and overheads are so high and income frequently unreliable. Wages are low but this is balanced by the quality of life we enjoy in these unbelievably beautiful areas. The Savills report includes some very large investment farms, which are not remotely relevant in most of the more remote areas of Scotland. In Braemar, Estates provide far more rented houses than the local Authority and rents are “affordable”.
There is no appetite in this community for community ownership on any scale. We operate Braemar Castle as a community operated attraction and that is very timeconsuming, although very rewarding.
How many men could be employed on the land if invercauld estate were removed from the equation? A lot more than 25 i would wager.
Just a side issue, but it is very true what you say about the role of constituency MSPs. Not all of them seem to have, however, understood this. The only answer I ever got from my constituency MSP (Rob Gibson, SNP) read, ” Your barbed prejudice is plain. You seem to have little faith that those of us who represent many communities like yours and are well aware of the needs and circumstances. Holyrood needs more than the power it needs control of the means of taxation and to empower communities as never before.”
I dunno, it must be very very difficult, owning lots of land, taking subsidies, at least in some cases, hiding your cash in mummy or daddys account and god forbid, putting up with city folks tramping round all over the place, even locals wanting access to take their dogs walkies. I mean it’s not as if the plebs could use the land any better, like for growing stuff to eat, or even to use to live on for goodness sake, wot! Land, pah! It’s a losing game, its so not easy. Pah!
My back garden and my dog make no profit for me either. Can I have a subsidy or tax break
I think we would find that very many of the businesses which the wealthy & landed have an interest in make “little or no profit”. Happily, that means they pay very little tax.
The thought of all these toffs running estates at no profit, just so they can give employment to poor country folk brings a tear to my old eyes. Bless ’em.
I’m glad to see Andy Wightman accepts sporting estates make no profit. They never have done and were never intended to, any more than owning a yacht, or a set of golf clubs or whatever other leisure pursuit takes your fancy.
That map of Scotland showing sporting estates in green and red must account for – what? a sixth of Scotland? – even though it’s obviously incomplete as it shows nothing in the Borders. So that by itself is a significant adminicle of evidence towards the proposition that most estates make little or no profit.
As for the Savills benchmark report, is a net income return of 1.3% inconsistent with “little or no profit”? Note that Johnstone didn’t say *no* profit, he said *little or* no and don’t confuse capital appreciation with revenue profit.
And it’s a bit rich to accuse people of naievty in the political process when Andy Wightman imagines that Land Value Rate is an attractive proposition to the electorate when the consequences can’t be costed – if that’s not the height of political naievety, then I don’t know what is!
As for the “It’s not bloody easy” jibe, ask Gigha – I imagine they’d agree! And Assynt Foundation – a sporting estate that’s scrabbling around after “funding” and had to cancel an IT project due to their “dire” financial situation. They’ve been forced to sell off assets to make ends meet.
Please do not misrepresent what I am saying. I don’t know if sporting estates make a profit or not. There has been no research on the matter. I suspect most of them do not. But that is not the same as saying that they lose their owner money. I remember figures for Letterewe Estate which showed losses of £120,000 per year but what was not admitted in those figures was capital appreciation of 7.8% per annum (non-inflation adjusted). Provided the owner has the capital to acquire the estate, it is clear that it is perfectly possible to exit after a number of years having enjoyed substantial personal consumption of leisure (usually never accounted for in published figures) and recoup all your initial outlay AND annual losses.
Also, for the record, I do not believe that LVR is an attractive proposition to the electorate. The consequences can be costed, however. It’s just that no-one has invested the time or resources to do so.
Fair enough. I am happy to rephrase myself as “I’m glad to see Andy Wightman suspects that most sporting estates don’t make a profit.”
David Johnstone was expressing an opinion based on anecdotal evidence. You don’t have to produce academic studies to back you up every time you express an opinion.
And as regards the Letterewe thing, you’re muddling up revenue profit with capital growth. DJ was talking about the former, not the latter. That being so, his “allegations” are, in fact, exactly “substantiated” by the Savills benchmarking report you cited.
I’m sure the good folks in Gigha could do things a lot more cheaply, using the old-fashioned ways modelled by previous lairds. Let the houses fall to damp & rot, let the pier be washed away, let the young men & women leave, let the lights go outs, let no-one grow a business…..so much more cash efficient.
Wul, that’s exactly my point. Thanks for expressing it in better language than I could have managed.
I agree entirely .
This is exactly why parts of Scotland are facing such dire depopulation, and probably why some lairds can’t face living in the place they claim to “love”
A massive chunk of land around Blackford area is Arab ownership. They let property fall into ruin. They own Ardoch where the fantastic Roman fort cries out to be given over to the custodians of history(don’t know if they’ve sold it on) Glen Turret- owner’s live in the south, come to shoot. Arndo in Argyll-absentees. If it’s got a whiff o’ heather, its bought by ghosts who haunt the land, visit to kill then drift away home leaving a skeleton staff to keep people off their property with orders to trap, poison and destroy any predator who attempts to re-instate nature. Scotland has been owned by such as these since Culloden and they are above the level of most of us x
Jess, the “Arabs” (as you so charmingly describe them!) who own Blackford Farms are Mohsin and Martine Al-Tajir and are resident. In fact, local farmer Tom Gray who occasionally comments here has written to the press in very supportive terms of what they’re doing at Blackford.
And did you really just publicly accuse the owner of Ardno Farm at Cairndow in Argyll (Catherine How) of wildlife crimes?!? Gulp! Rather you than me! I think that’s what Andy calls an “unsubstantiated allegation”!
If these estates/ASSETS are such a drain then the market would be flooded with them… or they could offer to sell them to the Scottish Gov. at the price they paid for them…. as I hope after Indy… we will resort to Comp. Purch. Orders…. at the original price… without a penny in appreciation.. as they have had the benefit and the EU subsidies… They genuinely must feel we have no grasp on the financial benefits from owning any land in Scotland.
That means, an independent Scotland will leave the EU and the European Convention of Human Rights, won’t it, Sam?
Am I right in thinking that most of the estates will be classified as agricultural land, and so are exempt from Capital Gains Tax and Inheritance Tax, as well as being businesses exempt from business rates? The graph suggests capital growth averaging 10% pa over the 5 years to 2013, tax free. No surprise that the Landowners are keen to block Land Reform, with privileges like these. Thanks for doing the research and publicising it, Andy.
You are probably correct. Most will be classified as agricultural land and there is Agricultural Property Relief and Business Property Relief from inheritance tax available as well as relief from capital gains tax is the property is sold and is a business asset. Principal residences – the homes we all live in – are also exempt from capital gains tax.
I don’t think that’s quite correct. If they have a genuine farming business they will qualify for APR on the farming assets. Most sporting estates are unlikely to qualify for BPR unless they offer a lot of services to their clients to qualify as a trading business. CGT rollover is unlikely on a sporting estate and they won’t get SFP. They will of course, for now not face, rates. Sporting activity is the least subsidised rural activity. I’d also challange the assertion made by others that most clients are enjoying a corporate jolly. It is possible but needs to genuine. HMRC weren’t born yesterday
Most sporting estates are such becuase the other land use opportunities are limited and the lossess or very modest returns are becuase most clients won’t pay enough to cover the high costs. The land might have alternative uses. Upland grazing, forestry or wild land come to mind. All these uses carry heavy subsidy support so a major switch in use is unlikely to yield any savings to the tax payer.
Andrew, I would add two further points to that:-
1. In so far as a sporting estate qualifies for agricultural property relief, it is only its *agricultural value* that is relieved. That will be a relatively small proportion of its overall value, the major part of which is the sporting and general “cachet” value.
2. The owner of a sporting estate does not qualify for business property relief merely by renting out the days he doesn’t use himself in an effort to recoup some of the costs.
Totally agree with Simon Blackett’s explanation of the workings of estates.
If as you would appear to advocate the land be turned over to the local populace, would they be able to make a living for all concerned out of it. Look around the Highlands today and what do you see, Crofts both owned and tenanted in most cases being left to grow no more than rushes and weeds, this possibly due to the fact that most people living in the Highlands are past retirement age and also the fact that the young people are leaving the area due to lack of work, no interest in working the land and a shortage of affordable housing both private and rented. Before we start trying to bring estates into local ownership perhaps the SG should address my previous points. The tourism industry for example is falling apart due to lack of traditional B&B accommodation, my village has seen a drop from eight providers ten years ago to only two, this due to ageing providers giving up. The absentee estate owners provide employment and a valuable influx of younger families to take up posts such as Estate Manager, Stalker and general workers, thus encouraging at least some young blood into the community. Instead of legislating against the estates would it not be a better proposition for our Scottish government to legislate for an increase in tax on the second home owners who holiday let for most of the year, take their proceeds out of the local economy and if the feel like appear for a couple of weeks each year
In your comment earlier in this string you cite Letterewe, perhaps instead of putting them down you should look to the employment provided and the excellent assets to the area which this estate has contributed to. Listen to the people who live in and look after these wonderful landscapes, they know the value of the estates and their owners, absentee or otherwise.
Tom, I totally agree. There is a great disconnect between people living on the ground and urban ideologues pursuing an agenda to achieve political ends.
Tom an interesting take on crofting and what they grow,rushes and weeds I am unsure what part of The Highlands you are viewing.What I see is the invasion by the lesser gentry having sold the house down south, bought the croft, grow a modern bungalow totally out of place in the highland environment,then sell what is left to like minded invaders,by this point there is no room for weeds or rushes.
Past retirement age is worthy of note,Scotland has created such a caring environment for those that need help that it attracts an invasion of dont want to queue in the rest of the UKs health service,so don’t suggest that the Highlands is a retirement home by choice.
Affordable housing is a topic that the estates would be well advised to stay way from,they claim to be the biggest providers of affordable housing in Scotland,that is a statement of fact,what they forget to tell you is that they don’t invest in the properties,lack of insulation,repairs,adequate heating and disproportionate rents. Tenants that are suffering fuel poverty !who would you want to raise a young family in such an impoverished environment.
Never mind encouraging Young blood into the rarefied atmosphere of estates,break the estates up,create more sustainable crofts that support the ethos of crofting as a mixed activity occupation. Then we can grow our communities,fill our schools support or local shops and promote a way of life and a culture that should be envied.
Let people not estates and their owners be the custodians of Scotland’s landscape,there would then be no need or room for second homes,absentee owners,deserted crofts or rushes and reeds.
Bill, I refer to the Highlands in general, very few crofts are used to their full potential. Your comments regarding an invasion by the lesser gentry could not be further from the truth, in my area the indigenous crofter are the ones who are doing exactly as you say, de-croft, plan, build and flog off to the highest bidder, in some cases they just obtain planning and sell on. The ones I see actually cultivating and producing anything apart from sheep and subsidies are your so called “lesser gentry”, they in general bring young families to the area and in so doing keep our schools and other services running, how many shops and businesses are owned by indigenous folk?, very few. Crofting is drastically in need of modernisation and diversification; this is not encouraged under current archaic legislation. Perhaps the SG could consider some changes in legislation to allow the modern crofter to employ at least one young local person giving them the opportunity to remain and work in the area, not all qualify to go on to Uni or College. The recent 17 mile residency ruling has probably been one of the SG/Crofters Commission’s most sensible decisions to date, this has put a cap on the absentee crofter of which there were many.
I agree that we have an over-abundance of those whom I term “CD’s” or coffin dodgers who sell up in the deep south for exorbitant sums and come here to take advantage of our cheaper properties and free nursing care, this could bring the downfall of our NHS service which is in danger of imploding, may be an idea for SG to introduce a minimum period, say 5 years of working in Scotland, to qualify for free care.
With regard to affordable housing, I was under the impression that most estate workers lived in tied accommodation as part of an employment package. A great number of estates are now utilising the natural environment and producing their own power through hydro, solar pv and bio-mass with the surplus hydro and pv going to the grid at the going rate.
New young blood is essential to the survival of all aspects of life in the Highlands, the estates and crofting are not the be all and end all as some would advocate, they are a valuable asset. With the ever increasing use of internet technology and the ability to communicate worldwide more and more doors are being opened, we should be promoting this aspect and encourage more of our own and incoming younger people to come and work and stay. There exist many successful internet based companies in the Highlands we should be actively encouraging more of this type of activity.
The people of Scotland are the custodians of our landscapes with the estates providing a reliable source of employment and with their sporting activities, which are more diverse than ever before, provide clientele and income for the few remaining B&B’s, Guest Houses , Hotels and other businesses in the area. All have an equal part to play in the bigger picture, less navel gazing and more joined up thinking and working together required.
Where I am living, the old style crofters make the useful contributions to the local economy, and to the future of the place, though generally by using quite a number of individual crofts. The “lesser gentry” crofters largely make a meal of things. They are the ones campaigning for “land reform” and “community empowerment”.
Tom, I am not advocating that “land be turned over to the local populace”. Of course extending the rights of communities is part of the process of land reform and those rights, if they come about will be exercised or not according to the wishes of local people. But land reform is much wider than that as the consultation paper illustrates.
I am not “putting down” Letterewe. I am merely citing is as an example of how financially rewarding the ownership of even the poorest land can be in order to counter and put into context the frequent assertion that these places make little or no profit.
Second home ownership would best be tackled by making secondary use of domestic property a change of use under planning legislation. There would then be democratic oversight of the extent of second homes in any locality.
You can only benefit from the increase in capital value if you sell it. As most landowners are not speculators it’s of little benefit. If sold a sporting estate is likely to have to pay CGT at either 20% or 28% depending how it’s owned.
Mention is often made in these debates of estates being bought by the government for the community, with the comment usually following close on it’s heels that there is not enough in the kitty ; given that these estates have often had vast amounts of public money in the form of agricultural and forestry grants,tax breaks etc, and indirectly in the form of corporate hospitality tax deductions being used to pay for pheasant shooting, being owned by shell companies in tax havens etc – surely all this money could be totted up and used rather like the down payment of a mortgage, and used to pay for the estate.
Furthermore, many of these estates are owned and/or shot over by bankers. Given that £24 000 per household was spent on quantitative easing and much of this ended up in the grubby paws of the super-rich, then it is only morally correct that this could also be added to the tally ! … oh, and then there is the issue of all the taxpaying serf’s money that was used to bail out the banks (free market capitalists ? – pah – only when it suits them !).
Andy, Reiner, It would be an interesting exercise to research the percentage of estate land given over to Crofting tenancies in recent years. This research could also look into percentage of tenanted land which has been decrofted for grant aided house building and disposed of after relevant statute period into, in most cases, the private housing market with I believe the vast majority of proceeds going to the crofter. The majority of these properties are ultimately sold on as second homes.
Yes, Tom, you touch on something most people don’t know. Crofters have the right to buy their land for 15 times the annual rent which means, with annual rents quite often as low as five of six pounds, next to nothing. The estates don’t benefit at all, lawyers benefit to the extent of around a thousand pounds or so. The estate even has to pay their share of legal fees. I am saying this as someone who has benefitted as a crofting tenant; we paid the estate’s legal fees out of a sense of fairness. Crofters also have a right to 50% of the development value of anything happening on the common grazings. A lot of people don’t understand the difference between “community” and “common grazings”. The crofters, and the crofters alone, have rights on the grazings. This leads to conflicts with community bodies who assume, they do. But they don’t. That is the reason why many crofters, i.e. working crofters who are actually making a living from the land, are quite dubious about the activities of the land reformers. A good example are the crofters on the land between the estate acquired ten or so years ago by the Assynt Foundation from Lord Vestey and the Eisg Brachaidh Estate. They threw in their lot with the Vesteys instead of joining the community buy-out.
A few comments in response to your blog above. I won’t repeat the points already well made by Simon Blackett, Neil King, Reiner Luyken and Tom Forrest. However I would like to make a few points regarding non resident ownership and your accusation that David Johnstone’s comments were misleading. They aren’t and are based on our own experience and Scottish Land & Estates (SL&E) membership.
There is a whole spectrum of ownership from the many living full time on their estate or farm business and running it hands on, to those relatively few who are full time resident overseas employing locally based management and returning to their estate as time allows. In between there is a whole range. Of the non full time resident owners I know, a significant number work outside of Scotland during the week to earn an income that allows them to invest back into their landholdings in Scotland, they return at weekends or as their business commitments allow, but are very much hands on managing their estate operations and employees. Are such owners absentee owners? I would say not. Likewise there are many people in Scotland who own land – of all different sizes – but do not live on that land. It can be owned for a variety of reasons including amenity or recreation and visited very often, or seldom. Indeed I count myself in that camp, owning a very small patch in the north of Scotland where I have a cabin and where my family and I spend a lot of time – but we do not live there full time. Many others own small areas of woodland with or without cabins, or cottages and a few acres etc and we are all then in effect non resident owners. This surely is a good thing reconnecting people with nature – something sorely lacking. Indeed the hutting campaign would create more ‘absentee’ owners but is viewed as a positive land reform step.
There are also a range of other circumstances including owners who live in other parts of the UK or abroad, sometimes expatriate Scots, sometimes people of other nationalities who share our love of this country and wish to invest in property here. As Simon points out above, for these owners who are living outside Scotland – who may be individuals or trustees – they, for what must surely be obvious reasons, quite often delegate the day to day management to an appointed individual or team. If the landholding is of sufficient scale most often a full time resident manager is employed who lives on the holding and runs the estate business and communications day to day. Often the well funded management of these estates is exemplary.
The point of contention that Andy Wightman raises in his blog is with regard to the scale of absentee ownership. It suits his argument to suggest that absentee ownership is a bad thing and is prevalent on a huge scale. From our experience though, as the organisation that represents and works with Scotland’s landowners, neither is the case. There is no evidence at all that absentee ownership results in poor management – indeed often the management of estates owned by non resident owners is of the highest standard. As to scale, David Johnstone’s comments are correct. If we take our membership as a pretty representative sample of the diverse ownership there is in Scotland, we have approximately around 10% of the membership that we deal with outside of Scotland and which then would be classed as truly absentee by any sensible definition – but as I have suggested it all depends surely on the definition. The notion that this ‘absenteeism’ is a rural phenomenon is also misleading – I am sure that many of the owners of residential and commercial properties or development land in our cities do not live on site.
It is interesting to relate the tale of a visit we had to our SL&E office from Alastair McIntosh back in December of 2013. Alastair will be well known to many readers of this blog. Alastair had asked to come in and inspect our membership list for a relevant research purpose that he had. Alastair was given the list and left to go through it. When he had finished Alastair turned to me and expressed severe disappointment – I was braced for a lambasting of some sort, but actually Alastair expressed disappointment that such a small % of our membership were absentee owners, I recall his assessment was around 8% or so. Alastair actually subsequently blogged about this and in his own words from the blog, “I raised a smile telling them that it had left me “very disappointed” – my prejudices having been, prima facie, less than fully confirmed”. Clearly Alistair had expect a far greater number which just goes to show that preconceived perceptions can be very misleading, never mind the difficulties I allude to above about what actually constitutes an absentee owner. It is far too easy and misleading to have sweeping generalisations.
As we have stated repeatedly, our membership at Scottish Land & Estates welcomes transparency and accountability of ownership for all who own land in Scotland – not just our members. I think that the most important and fundamental point though is that non resident ownership does not mean that the land and property is being managed badly or not delivering a range of public benefits – it most often is and we should be welcoming this with its associated inward investment.
Nice to know that all is sweetness and light, that we have nothing to worry about and that our countryside is in safe hands.
Just one minor point though, how do we make the opaque offshore trusts turn transparent? This is something many have tried to do and failed, what’s the secret?
Andy, I just had a look at the map; in our neck of the woods, it appears to be highly inaccurate. In Coigach, there are two resident landowners, at Badentarbet and Inverpolly, and one absentee, the Scottish Wildlife Trust (which pretends to be all villagey and lovey dovey with the community) that owns Ben Mhor Coigach estate. I appreciate that ihere are a lot of blanks and unknowns, but the picture it gives may well be misleading. One should also bear in mind that the Assynt Foundation which is shown as “resident” actually chuckedd of the land Vestey’s keepers when the public paid for the foundation’s acquisition of Glencanisp and Drumrunie estates; the Vesteys re-employed the keepers on other estates in the area. The Vesteys (and other estates) also give land and/or houses to retired keepers where they continue to live with their families.
No one is saying “all is sweetness and light”, but it sure is a lot better than many try and make out. We believe in good practice and that was why we published The Landowners Committment setting out what our members believe represents good modern landownership and that is aimed at all who own land not just our members. With regards to transparency of ownership, as I say above we fully support transparent and accountable ownership and this is also reflected in our response to the Land Reform Consultation submitted today. You can read more here and our response http://www.scottishlandandestates.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3998:landowners-fight-plans-to-give-ministers-land-reform-intervention-powers&catid=71:national&Itemid=107
Of course there are estates that are models of good management, and there are plenty of selfish greedy crofters. The crofting system is an anachronism. The fact that crofters can buy land for peanuts and abuse their rights is offensive. But so is the fact that anyone with enough money can buy swathes of a pretty small country. They may be model landlords to ‘their people’. Or they may not.
An aspect that never seems to come up is the potential impact on forestry. Communities and farmers are not known for their interest in commercial forestry. The Govt have ambitious planting plans and mills and bio mass contractors/consumers needs a sustainable wood supply. Estates employ foresters, but need a critical mass to be cost effective. if Estates are fragmented, local forestry jobs will be lost. Forestry companies and contractors need managing and local community buyouts and farmers do not have those skills. Trees need protection from deer and Estates have the skills to manage deer sustainably. I can see forestry being one of the unintended consequences of Land Reform.
Tenant farmers do not plant trees because they are not allowed to in their leases.
In modern enlightened countries like norway, farmers work the land under grass, crops and trees . The notion that only estates can grow trees is frankly laughable.
Simon, you seem to have led a very sheltered life! Now that you are retired can I first of all wish you a long and happy retirement. When you are ready, you could start to explore how forestry in other countries has benefitted from land reform. In Finland, for example, one of the biggest forest products companies in the world, employing 11,000 people across 30 countries is owned and controlled by 123,000 forest owners who, on average own a forest 40ha in extent.
Where is the “LIKE” button?
I’m relieved to hear about all the benign landlords and genuinely impressed by all those who work on the land. As Churchill said though, it’s the system that’s at fault and it’s incumbent on us all to change it for the better.
Meantime the homeless, the unemployed and the alienated can only look on and despair.
The homeless, unemployed and alienated should indeed be the focus of attention but all the attention given to land reform (because it’s red meat to some of the troops) distracts from what the SG should be focusing on which is our education system (going backwards), the economy and how to create a more enterprising and successful economy. Focussing on sporting estates and absentee lairds is not the way to address those issues.
Never fear the SG has no power to change anything, the pyramid will continue to be inverted, the cozy world will continue to be enjoyed by the hand full, the best of our young folk will continue to seek pastures new, all will be well why change a system that has suited the powerful so well, If there is one thing in my life that could be changed it is my lack of eloquence to dispute entrenched privilege that can be seen all around.
That is classic treatment of the symptoms rather than the disease itself.
The scottish people are aliens in their own land, with less rights than a red indian or an australian aborigine who have human rights and a right to remain, unlike the scots who experience no peaceful enjoyment of property, even when they built it.
Land reform can address these issues. It’s about housing tenure, the price of land, the unearned wealth in land that should be collected and used to tackle poverty and inequality. It’s about ending rising levels of debt secured on rising house prices and diverting it to the productive economy to create jobs. It’s about democratising the way in which decisions about land are made ending the alienation many feel from what goes on around them.
Well Andy, after twelve years of the act being in force, please give me one example where this has happened.
I said land reform can address these issues. I didn’t say the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 can. If I had my way I would repeal that particular piece of legislation.
Perhaps another fact from the ground to consider for Isobel. Communmity ownership, as I mentioned above, may actually cause unemployment and homelessness. In the case of the Assynt Foundation, it had a lucky outcome, certainly from my perspective. My daughter and her husband bought one of the redundant Keeper’s cottages; she is now expecting her third child. Her’s and and the family of one of the keepers resettled by the Vesteys, after they were paid off by the Assynt Foundation, are two of only three families with children below primary school age in the whole Knockan/Elphin/Ben Mhor Assynt area. Meanwhile, the Assynt Foundation is sitting on large areas of land without making any use of it, or making it accessible to aspiring young families.
A lot of much better informed folk than me on here. I agree with Churchill, the system is wrong. As newcomer to this topic I can’t follow a lot of the detail. However, it does seem clear that removing land from the list of commodities traded by the very wealthy would be a good thing. Land is just too useful to our population to be used simply to “park” large dollops of cash for half a generation or more.
If I could afford a scheme which allowed me to buy a cake, eat it, and be given another cake plus my money back, I’d do it too.
Some owners of large estates may be good at managing their land but that doesn’t mean that local ownership would be worse. There’s no reason that I can see that all the benefits referred to in the blog of local employment etc would disappear if the land and resources was owned by locals.
Andy, thank you for expressing my views far more cogently than I can.
The biggest beast of the “land reform” scene, Andy Wightman, said:-
“Land reform can address these issues. It’s about housing tenure, the price of land, the unearned wealth in land that should be collected and used to tackle poverty and inequality. It’s about ending rising levels of debt secured on rising house prices and diverting it to the productive economy to create jobs. It’s about democratising the way in which decisions about land are made ending the alienation many feel from what goes on around them.”
Let’s unpack that:-
* “It’s about housing tenure” – Correct but no “land reform” needed. Just give funding to housing associations and remind local authorities of their compulsory purchase powers (to be refined if necessary).
* “the price of land” – increasing the supply of it would drive down price = change planning laws. Why do land reformers never talk about this?
* ” the unearned wealth in land that should be collected and used to tackle poverty and inequality” – try telling Mr & Mrs Average-Mortgage they have “unearned wealth” in land!
* “ending rising levels of debt secured on rising house prices and diverting it to the productive economy to create jobs” – Ditto. Unless and until anyone can up with credible, costed proposals in plain English, this is wishy-washy academic think-tank bollocks Mr & Mrs Average-Mortgage don’t understand.
* “democratising the way in which decisions about land are made ending the alienation many feel from what goes on around them” – Bollocks. People care about decent jobs and houses. They do not “feel alienation about decisions about land”.
The only credible aspect of “land reform”, IMO, was ARTB. That’s been decided now, for better or for worse. The rest of it is just a populist envy driven attack against a soft target by politicians trying to dupe folk into believing they’re doing something meaningful.
Neil, Thank you for expressing my view far more cogently (with the exception of ARTB!) than I can!!
Neil, you are clearly out of touch with reality.
Something to do with 1000 miles of ocean and 100 years in the past?
On the contrary hector, my insular location gives me the insight that here in Portugal, they had land reform 40 years ago. But it hasn’t prevented the primary school in my village being closed in recent years, our village shop being under threat and a ghastly demographic of dwindling and aging population: in a hideous irony, the primary school building has been converted into a chapel of rest! In short, the same sorts of problems rural Scotland is suffering and that “land reform” is supposed to be going to cure. Didn’t work in Portugal. Living here also makes me very cynical about these micro local authorities advocated by some but I shan’t digress into that here.
You cant compare the azores with scotland.
There is vast economic potential in scotland waiting to be unleashed when the dead hand of lairdism is removed.
Neil, I’m not sure about the comparison – except that you’re talking about isolated, insular communities. The Scottish highlands and islands are similarly remote from the ‘centre’ of the UK, which is of course nowhere near the centre.
But they are only remote when you accept the geographical and financial imbalance of the UK. They did have – and still do, despite years of attempts to destroy it – a long, vibrant cultural heritage. Nobody wants to go back to a semi-mythical clan system, which wass outdated and barbaric; but it was no more so than the imported feudal system which replaced it, and which we still have.
Land ownership is a fundamental pillar of this system, which relies upon the concept of superiority and inferiority. So no matter how benevolent a landowner may be, he has a right to be an absentee, an awkward bugger, or a downright ***.
Few are, of course, and most operate a benevolent paternalism. Like Lord vestie, whom I recall saying on tv many years ago, “The Highlander is tough. The day central heating comes to the highlands will see the end of the Highlander”
Alistair, I didn’t mean to suggest the Azores are directly comparable to Scottish islands or highlands but there are enough analogies to allow me to challenge hector’s assumption that I was too remote to be able to express an intelligent opinion. One big difference here, for e.g., is the housing market: you can barely give houses away on this island because the dwindling indigenous population is not being balanced by incomers, retirees and 2nd home owners etc.
BTW, you don’t have to be a landowner to have the right to be an absentee, an awkward bugger, or a downright ***. You find them in every walk of life!
Come on now
What is wrong with the Tenant farmers who work the land and take the risk , not managing to own their farm ?.
The landlords are the beneficiaries of the rising land value . Farmers who own their farm benefit the same way , therefore managing to borrow capital to improve the way they farm . Unfortunately tenant farmers do not have this ever increasing high value asset which they pay a rent for and also look after it , taking on a lot of the burdens that the landlord should be doing . We still have feudalism in Scotland in the 21st century . 432 landowners still own 50% of Scotland .
On the subject of unsubtantiated allegations, there’s another one: 432 people own half the private land in Scotland. I know of no evidence to support this statement (which is not to say it is untrue of course).
Chapter 12, Table 2a in The Poor Had No Lawyers (2013 edition). Was 438 in 2010.
I’ve only got the 1st edition of TPHNL but all that table says is “Percentage of private rural land – 50%; Number of owners – [numbers for 1872, 1970, 1995] 2010 – 438; Acres – 7,862,069” That’s not evidence. That’s just you making the allegation in slightly different words. If Table 2a in the 2013 ed. lists the 438 owners and their properties, that would be different. Does it?
Table 2a in 2013 edition is the same format as 2010 edition with updated figures. Information such as this appearing in a published book by an author who has been researching the topic for 20 years is not an “unsubstantiated allegation”. It is published research.
I am sorry, Andy, that sounds a bit like papal infallibility to me. Why don’t you just publish the list that Neil is asking for here in this blog? I am always struggling with this allegation, too. I have referred to it in my own writing that it is alleged that…
I may well do at some point. But I read a lot of books based on research. I never refer to published findings as “unsubstantiated allegations” – that would be derogatory. I merely refer to research findings and reference the source.
Doesn’t this method easily lead to wrong conclusions, as evidenced by the map that you printed at the top oif this thread?
I think you noted an inaccuracy relating to the residency status of the Assynt Foundation. As the blog makes clear the research that produced that map was conducted 2000-2002. Assynt Foundation acquired their land in 2005.
Andy, I take your point but I noticed inaccuracies regarding the residency status of all three estates on the Coigach peninsula, i.e. Inverpolly, Badentarbet and Ben Mhor Coigach. There has been no change since 2000 to 2002.
Different people will define absenteeism in different ways. There was a methodology that involved a set of criteria. These were applied diligently and the results reflect that methodology.
In that case, the methodology was flawed, Andy. The owners of Badentarbet Estate live on the estate since the 1940s, with perhaps two weeks absence for holidays per year. The owners of Inverpolly Estate work it themselves since well over twenty years, running sheep, cattle, some tourism, stalking and fishing. They do it all themselves, they are basically farmers. I suppose they are lucky if they get two weeks holidays per year. Their children went to the local schools. It beats me how anyone can define this as absenteeism,
Reiner, I am not going to get into a detailed debate about the study. But your information is irrelevant. Neither Badentarbet or Inverpolly formed part of the sample studied which is why each is neither red nor green but white (blank).
So how do we know that the sample is representative?
It was a study of sporting estates. You said yourself that the owners of both are “basically farmers” It was highly probable that they were excluded from the study on that basis.
This is not nit-picking, Alistair. the devil is always in the detail. Inverpolly Estate contains 12.000 acres and is a member of the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group, so it is a sporting estate, Andy. There was no reason to exclude it on that count from the research. What I said was that the owners are basically farmers. They work a large, mixed and very well managed estate. As far as I can see, it just provides a modest living for just one family (without sending children off to boarding school or anything like that!).
Why don’t you publish the list now?
Because I publish what I want when I choose to do so. All the 1995 data is published in Who Owns Scotland (Canongate, 1996) and the first 100 are listed in TPHNL. I also generally do not open any request I make to researchers for access to their data by claiming that their work is no more than unsubstantiated allegations.
Your coyness about publishing what is presumably a relatively small Excel spreadsheet (in other words we’re not talking about terabytes of data there’s some logistical problem about placing online) is quite inexplicable. It leads to the inevitable conclusion you’re trying to hide something and is the sort of thing you’d be the first to jump on other people for. Bewildering.
Neil, you seem to have plenty of spare time, why dont you do the research and publish the list?
Or would that be aiding the enemy?
A lot of nit picking here, and a distraction from the real question.
Do M S Ps praise lairds in private , that is the question ?.
Yes, and in public too.
The cap doffing is quite sickening.
Here’s another prime recent example:-
Note how Fergus Ewing says:-
“The team at Blair Castle, and the engineers and designers working on this project have done a fantastic job of using the land effectively while being respectful of the surroundings and ensuring the power house is environmentally friendly.
“This hydro-electric scheme is a prime example of how businesses can make sustainable use of their natural resources without adversely affecting our stunning Scottish landscape, while also creating, for themselves, a positive commercial advantage.
He could hardly have been more fulsome in his praise if SL&E had written that script for him! (Maybe they did!)
In this case, however, Andy’s analysis that it’s OK for MSPs to praise estates when they are their constituents who have a problem they’re trying to sort out doesn’t apply because (a) Ewing is not Atholl’s constituency MSP; and (b) he wasn’t there to fix a problem. So maybe David Johnstone isn’t as naive as Andy makes out.
That would be because neither Johnstone nor I dicsuss Ministerial visits.
Coming clean Neil, no we didn’t. However I was at the launch and was gratified to hear the Minister praising landowners like Atholl Estates for what they deliver for Business, Tourism & Energy for Scotland and for what they contribute in their local area. Support for traditional business like fieldsports and its wider benefits to rural Scotland were also singled out for praise. For most people that will not be a surprise, for surely driving sustainable business and enterprise and supporting those that deliver such sustainable rural development is what a Minister responsible for these areas should be doing! I’m sure howls of derision will follow from the usual suspects, but I for one am please that Ministers will recognise these contributions so fully.
Unfortuneately Mr Ewing has fallen for all the propaganda of the lairds. He is not the same man i listened to in parliament 2003 making a passionate speech for tenant farmers to be released from the feudal shackles by Right to buy.
Tenant farmers achieve far more every day with far less resources than Atholl, providing the food for the nations table against ever increasing odds.
Or perhaps he has actually just seen it for himself over the last years and made up his own mind. Reality is much differnent from the two dimensional world you paint and as the Cabinet Secretary said in the Holyrood Parliament Chamber this week, 82% of tenants and 89% of landlords think the sector is working just fine – the majority clearly don’t share your view of a sector crippled by “feudal shackles”. That’s said there are areas for improvement and some of us are working hard to try and make that happen to benefit all in the sector. So really, glass more than half full!
82% think its working fine, who made that up?
85% of tenants want ARTB, which is well up since the ridiculous rent cases and increases came along. Thats hardly an advert for the status quo.
And dont believe anything that Alex Ferguson says, who should not be allowed to comment due to his personal interest.
Neil and Reiner, knowing where you are both coming from, I shall save my sanity and stop posting.
Hector, the figures of 82% of tenants and 89% of landlords thinking the sector is working fine came from the Cabinet Sectetary Richard Lochhead and was in his speech to Parliament this week when he launched the Ag Holdings Review report recommendations and made the point that the majority of the sector was working fine. It was not Alex Fergusson so I think you might have your wires crossed there. The figures are from research commissioned by Scottish Government themselves to inform the Ag Holdings Review and the research and report was undertaken by IPSOS MORI, who are idependent. The survey results are on the Scottish Government website for all to see.
The tenants that you refer to . Are they 1991 Act Secure tenants ?.
James, from memory the survey covered all types tenant farmers so 91Act and newer ones LDTs, SLDTs etc, but a very significant % of those surveyed were 91Act secure tenants. The survey is on the Scottish Government website and has all the breakdown detail. So in answer to your question, yes – many of them were 91Act Secure tenants.
Well , as Mandy Rice-Davies would say ” he would say that , wouldn’t,he ” .
As you well know the large majority of your new LDTs , SLDTs are taken up by established farmers who are terrified to be “identified “. as being not happy with their arrangement with the landlord in case he loses the use of the extra land .
I am sure if you pull the proper figures from the survey you will find a large percentage of secure farm tenants are not happy .
The figures from the survey are clear and it was anonymous so why would anyone be in fear of being identified? It suits the narrative of some to try and pretend tenants are cowed into submission but when anonymously asked the vast majority clearly find the relationship with their landlord works well. Interestingly the Ag Holdings Review group reaches similar conslusions making it clear that the system is not broken but requires some steps to address problems in the minority of relationships. So perhaps we should concentrate on solving problems rather than trying to create them as part of reform project.
And before you suggest it Hector I share the review groups view that ARTB is incompatible with a healthy tenanted sector so it’s no answer.
If the results were filtered to those who were ONLY tenants and who lived on that rented farm, you would find satisfaction levels at 30% if you were lucky.
Hector, why don’t you actually read the survey report! The breakdowns are all there and you can clearly see the views of tenants and also the views of the rest of the sector. It may not be what you want to hear/read, but it is what this independent survey found were the views of the sector.
Glad to see you back .
You have still to tell us how much estates spend on their tenanted farms ie have the farm tenants got to pay for all the maintenance of the farm ?.
This question was asked several months ago and there has never been a proper answer yet .
The repair responsibility is fairly straightforward. The tenant is responsible for maintenance and repair fair wear and tear accepted. The landlord to replace when beyond repair. If there is a post lease agreement the tenant may be responsible for replacement as well but likely to pay a lower rent.
Of course there is room for disagreement. Usual problem is argument over whether a lack of repair has hastened the need for renewal.
As to how much is spent it depends on cicumstrances. Some years our responsibilities can be reasonably light, other years it can absorb almost the entire rental income stream. Savills do an estate benchmarking exercise which is available online which should give a flavour as a % of rent roll.
For reference, here is relevant figure and paragraph from the report.
it appears that Mr Lochhead was including the “neither satisfied nor dissatisfied to arrive at his figure of 82%. of course the report does not break down the satisfaction levels between secure tenants and others though the paragraphs above indicate that longer (ie 1991 tenants) are less satisfied.
Thankyou for clarifying the situation .
S L and E enjoy picking out figures to suit their argument that back up their propaganda machine .
It shows how feudalism works for the landowner over his farm tenant
What has fuedalism got to do with anything other than you get to use the word to suggest something about a landlord tenant relationship which is completely erroneous. Is the relationship between a landlord and, lets say, Tesco as tenant feudal?
The interpretation of the figures was actually the CS’s but his assumption was hardly unreasonable.
Actually James it was the Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead who picked out these figures for his speech, presumably to highlight a key point he wanted to make – ie that the majority in the tenanted sector think things are working fine. It was not SL&E, so I suggest you direct your comments at him. Better still, you should go onto Holyrood TV on the Internet and watch his speech for yourself.
What grant aid or other financial aid did Atholl estates get in the hydro -electric venture . How much income will it generate for the estate annually ?.
I know nothing of the scheme particulars but as a renewable energy scheme it is likely to be elibible for Feed in Tarrif which is a public policy driven scheme to encourage green energy. You can’t have a grant as well as it’s double funding. These grants are available to anyone who has an eligible scheme and all necessary consents.
Andrew is right, I assume there will be FIT applicable, but not aware of any construction grants. Power I understand will all be towards reducing running costs.
I don’t know what, if any, grant aid they got. Most renewable scheme of this size that I am aware of are privately funded. As I undertand it, the power generated from the hydro will actually go towards reducing the huge cost of the electic power bill that there is for running Blair Castle – which is one of the premier and most important tourist destinations in Scotland, providing huge benefits to the local area. Blair Castle is already recognised as a Green Business and so this project and approach will, I am sure, fit well into that ethos. The Minister certainly thought and said so. So no income, rather reducing running costs.
Come on, the FITS will be huge, paid by the taxpayer.
Farm tenants in single glazed houses will be paying for the laird to keep warm , as well as funding his lifestyle.
From memory it was a small scheme so the FiT’s won’t be huge and it’s the electricity consumer who pays which I accept are also taxpayers. However if you don’t like the policy I suggest you rail at the government not people who take up the opportunity.
Do your homework and read the facts Hector. Small scheme rejuvenating a previous Edwardian scheme. The estate also is not run by a “laird” as you suggest. Perhaps you live in a difficult situation and if you do all sympathy. However, please don’t assume the rest of the word is the same. The picture you attempt to paint is so far from reality it’s bizarre.
I thought that grant or financial aid would be one of your leading questions at the launch ?. If a tenant farmer was exercising a similar high capital project , you would be asking questions .
We have tenants who have received plently of financial support for diversifications and I’m delighted for them. Its a nonsense to suggest if it were a tenant led project we’d somehow think it needed to be denegrated or public support questioned.
So lochhead got his facts wrong, and not for the first time. Alex ferguson trotted out the 82% bollocks figure too.
How can tenants who say they are neither satisfied or dissatisfied be counted as satisfied?
My figure of 30% is pretty near the mark for “happy ” tenants.
No he didn’t get his facts wrong, he reported the views of Scottish tenants. I think you should just accept that and move on.
To be accurate he should have said that 65% were satisfied or very satisfied.
Funny he didnt mention the 85% who favour ARTB.
Who do you think has the more power Tesco or the landlord?.
The relationship is determined by the terms of the lease. And Tesco won’t have a huge pile of statutory protection in addition unlike an agricultural tenant.
The problem with presenting data from a Tenant farmer poll, is not just the fact that it will be corrupted with owner occupiers. But crucially you are polling a group of people who will be suffering from learned helplessness. “easier just to go along with the attitude that things are fine”. As for ARTB stats, these are completely skewed with peoples perception of extremely high land prices. If a tenant felt that the farm was unaffordable then they tend to think negatively towards ARTB. The question really is at national level, do we want to promote self sufficiency and self confidence, combined with independent minded farming families? OR do we want to perpetuate a higher level of governance which holds power?
Maybe I misinterpret your remarks but to suggests tenants suffer from “learned helplessness’ is patronising rubbish. If I were to suggest that to the tenants I know, both ours and others in the area they’d be both incredulous and, I imagine, pretty cross. The idea you can’t meet the national aspirations your refer to without everyone owning their property is also erroneous. You, and others on this blog, may be dissatisfied with your L/T relationship but it seems from the views of other tenants you can’t assume that the bulk of other tenants share your view.
i don’t think patronising is the correct word. Can you explain how my national aspirations can be achieved while being a tenant farmer? As for my relationship with my landlord it is actually rather good and he is a nice person. It is the system which prevents me from flourishing.
I’m pleased you’re in the 82%. From all the evidence around me, including some very successful businesses based around tenancies, there appears to be no reason that your national objectives can’t be met. Which bit of the system prevents you flourishing?
The very fact that you question my statement of being unable to flourish, is a perfect example of the system.
No it’s not it’s a genuine question. As I see many flourish I’m curious why you think you can’t when you’re clearly a capable individual and you report a good landlord / tenant relationship. Has your landlord ever refused an idea / diversification? Has the bank refused it? Have you discussed putting a diversification in a seperate lease to give flexibility?
I assume you have not understood the question .
WHO has the most power TESCO or the landowner at a rent review
If it’s a commercial lease the review is likely to be either to open market or linked to an index. If the parties can’t agree then arbitration or whatever process the parties agreed to. So the process is evidence based. If one party decides to be daft and use their financial strength to argue for a position not supported by evidence it won’t succeed.
Just have to tell this story.About 20 years ago when my bank was commercially involved with Tesco they opened a new store in our area.
I had a conversation with my local bank manager who said he was quite concerned about the damage they would do to his High Street customers.I replied by saying that he wouldn”t lose buisness as with the banks tie up they would still get to count the Tesco money even if not so much from the High Street.
His reply at the time was that Tesco go round all the head offices of all the banks and get them to quote for counting their takings which was a lot more cash based then and then put all the takings to the bank with the cheapest quote sometimes hundreds of miles away. No scruples there. When I heard then that Tesco would take on the banks then what hope was there for us as suppliers or anyone else that dealt with them.They will never play fair and even today use creative acoounting which has finally caught them out.
I’m not surprised. Its about time Christine Tacon was given some teeth.
How do you calculate a lower rent if there is a post lease agreement . What ” magic ” formula do you use ?.
Current system based on comparables. If there’s no direct rental evidence from other farms with PLAs then an adjustment to rent from standard terms would be made. The adjustment would reflect the likely liability faced by the tenant. So, if the farm had largely aged buildings in need of renewal then the adjustment might be greater to reflect the higher liability. If all the buildings are new and the liability is a long way off then the adjustment might be lower. We don’t have any PLAs so I haven’t done an adjustment for this for 15 yrs.
Comparable with neighbours or further afield ?. Should budgets not be used first , rather than comparables ?.
Under the current system the more local the more relevant. Market evidence leads at present. Current review is proposing budgets. I wouldn’t assume that means rents will go down or that it will be simpler.
I feel like Jeremy Paxman asking Michael Howard the same question .
Who do you think has the most power in a rent review Tesco or the landowner ?.
Like Paxman you’re asking a leading question for a purpose. In fact power is not that relevant when theres a process to go through.
The tenants on your estate that diversified . Was their rent increased due to the diversification
The diversifications came out of the farm and into commerical leases to give greater flexibility – for instance for them to sell the business should they wish. The tenants took independent legal advice which confirmed that was the sensible approach. Any rent payable was a normal rent reflecting our interest. So if a ground rent the rent is very low. Had the diversification stayed in the farm – choice was tenants ultimately – then the act sets out the format for reviewing the rent.
Talking of Tesco – see my blog of 3 May 2013. Tesco use a front company to drive up rents, force tenants out and then come riding to the rescue of a failed shopping centre pretending they are a saviour.
I only used them as an example of a commercial business. Wish I hadn’t bothered!
ha ha! Does go to show, though, that all debates about land relations are fundamentally about power relations. That is why they are political and have been for centuries.
You are correct this time . It was a silly analogy , wasn’t it ?.
Not silly as such just led to a conversation about Tesco which was missing the point I was making that only agricultural landlord / tenant relationships are described as feudal which is both technically and practically complete guff.
The laird in my area is absentee, infact he doesn’t even live in this country. He holds on to the land for power and position. He allows houses on the estate to become derelict and old 91 leases when taken back are then let out on 364 grazing leases and these farms are farmed with a “short term” approach…low input low output. This sort of “Estate management” is harming our communities.
I really never expected the Ag Holdings legislation review to support the ARTB, despite the high percentage of tenants calling for it. Afterall , it was a tenancy review, and the members of the group had blinkers on when looking at the reason for a decline in land being tenanted. The Cab Sec reported that we have the lowest percentage of land tenanted in Europe. I wonder if the group studied how other European countries manage to get high percentages of land tenanted ….Norway perhaps ?
Now what interests me more is the result that will come out of the Governments Land Reform bill. I am still waiting for the RADICAL part of land reform they promise. Estate owners may be a bit too quick in suggesting that the ARTB is off the agenda. The ARTB will never go away.
I’m not going to defend a landlord who’s not fulfilling their responsibilities or ignoring the wider ramifications of their actions. To that end there are recommendations over transparency and actions that can be taken where landlords fall short in the new review which I support. What I don’t support are steps which also impact on good landlords as that will damage confidence and ultimately the system. Just like your campaigning for ARTB but then I suspect you know that which is why you’ll keep doing it.
I forgot to add, and I don’t wan’t to re-start a blog already past, but much of europe has higher rates of let land because of intra-family arrangements to put back together holdings fragmented by inheritance arrangements. Theres a useful UNFAO report which Andy provided a link to last time which explains.
Andy said above “”all debates about land relations are fundamentally about power relations.”
What utter bollocks! The words of someone who’s obviously never had a meaningful “land relation” in his life!
99% of “land relations” are commercial transactions dealt with by grown ups making commercial decisions. The example of Tesco is incredibly apposite – if I was a Tesco landlord, I’d be bricking it right now!
It would appear that a complete ARTB is no longer the front runner. However, in its place and now pulling away is the conditional ARTB. Perhaps this is the solution, separating bad landlords from good ones. We have heard from the self-congratulatory factors, stories of happy tenants and good businesses, then fair play to them and there will be clearly no appetite nor should there be for farm purchase. So now we need to discuss the criteria which puts a landlord into the bad category, and also the system which will allow the tenant to purchase the farm in order to reverse the decay.
I would like to start by suggesting parish depopulation be the triggering element. Then individuals can come forward with specific examples of landlord neglect at holding level. Importantly though, when a case of landlord neglect has been identified then the process of ARTB is non reversible.
For a start any test will have to demonstrate the LL is at fault not the tenant for the decay. The test will, I think, need to stick to the holding. There are so many factors which could cause local depopulation, which may have nothing to do with the LL, which would make devising a fair test pretty tricky.
The test envisaged by the review group is a failure to fulfill the LLs obligations. It will be subject to court approval – as it needs to be to be fair.
Andrew, don’t look at the depopulation trigger for CRTB as an attack on landlords. If something needs to change to try a different model of ownership then landlords are just unfortunately caught in the crossfire. It is not helpful when the argument is polarised as ‘tenants out to get the bad landlord’
You can see a definite parallel of Andrew Howard’s Mr Tesco and The Mr Big Agri – business . Move over wee man , I am taking over this tenanted land now . Perfect for landlords .
Setting aside that a LL can’t just take over tenanted land – 1991 act tenancies are all but bomb proof – it’s overly simplistic to characterise this as big v small. And where scale does impact you’ll need to blame economics for that. Like it or not the farming industry needs to prepare itself for the future rather better than it is. I believe the Lloyds Business Monitor rview of farming in Scotland showed that 80% of farmers make no money before subsidy and a proportion make no money after subsidy. Tenants or owner occupiers showed similar trends. This is clearly not sustainable and requires a variety of responses. In some cases scale will help, in others just better farming and in some additional enterprises. Will there be the same number of farmers in 20 years time. No, there will be less. I don’t say that with any pleasure but it’s head in sand stuff not to recognise that. So, the challange is to work out what can take it’s place in the socio-cultural landscape of Scotland, particularly the remoter areas more focussed on farming. It will require other businesses and the industry as a whole to widen it’s focus beyond only farming being the answer. As an example of this look at the howls of protest from NFUS / STFA etc whenever farm land is afforested. If we continue to think in these silos it won’t benefit us. You may expect me to say this but estates are often good examples of businesses which have diversified. Farm tenants clearly need to have that flexibility available to them.
Hebridean Farmer, Slurry Stirrer – The Ag Holdings final paper has come as a bitter disappointment, there are no radical suggestions, on the contrary, it appears insipid and very biased toward the landowners.
Which 1991 Secure tenant is going to be the one who approaches the land court? Who has that amount of money and time? What if the tenant is unsuccessful (as is wont to happen at the land court) and what if they lose the farm?
I agree that parish depopulation ought to be a trigger for the procedure – both historical and current depopulation – it is still happening! There are vast amounts of rural houses lying derelict – why the pressure to move people from country to villages or towns rather than see the derelict houses renovated?
We urgently need a rural resuscitation as our land and unique culture is dying. We are being cleared so the landowner reap the subsidies.
I refuse to accept the disingenuous crowings eminating from certain commenters: the tenant is the cash cow, a cumbersome nuisance yet valuable (until many ‘1’s appear on its ear tag and an eye is on slaughter.)
We have been thrown the crumbs from the table in order to appease our appetite for true reform but the recommendations in the paper do not satisfy. The findings also took so long that I wonder if they were written in 1715, so feudal the outcome.
Biased towards the LL? Really? So you think a wide extension of succession rights and allowing tenants, even where no successor, to sell their tenancy and therefore postponing VP by almost two generations favours the LL? Tenants wanted and have got budget based rent assessments and a whole series of other more minor amendments. There’s barely a measure that a LL would accept as being wholly helpful there are one or two minor ones to be fair.
This is a review written to occupy the pre-define political space offered. Sadly I suspect that space had little thought for the what’s needed to invigourate the sector.
So , if a person offers a ” daft ” rent for a local farm tenancy , this will not be taken into account for a rent review of a traditional tenancy ?.
In short no. If it’s daft then it will stand out as not consistent with the local market and if it’s an offer for an LDT then it would adjusted for scarcity / marriage value etc. This is well set out in both the Moonzie and Roxburghe cases. In the latter there were complaints about the % increase but I’m yet to see anyone who says that £77/a is unreasonable for a top grade, fully equipped (in fact I think it may have been over equipped) Kelso farm. So despite all the huffing and puffing the existing system seemed perfectly capable of setting reasonable rents. It remains to be seen what the budgetry process comes up with but I think it may not deliver what those campaigning for it expect.
I take it then that the “daft ” rent was deemed excessive to the budget of the farm you had in mind therefore the rent should be based on the profitability of the holding ?.
IMO high rents are usually driven by marriage value. In a recent axample in this part of the world (Moray) an LDT went for £150/a. The bids from existing farmers were all over £100. The bids from stand alone farmers were about £75-80 indicating they’d paid careful attention to their budgets. 1991 act rents are for info about £55 for that type of land!
Based on budgets done for contract arrangements (where we’re bidding to be the contractor) i’d say £150 is supportable based on the last 5 yrs average return if you’re spreading fixed costs. Not as a stand alone unit but then no rents for 1991 act stand alone units are paid. Incidentally many 1991 act businesses have other land over which they enjoy the marriage value but that is rarely sought by the LL even where he may be entitled to do so.
James, “daft” (or “freak” as they were described in one Land Court case) rents are left out of account even under the present market based rent test. That was made clear in the recent Roxburgh Mains case.
You are quoted ~
” indicating they’d paid careful attention to their budgets. ” .
Then why is it that comparables are the first thing that landlords or factors begin theirs argument for a rent increase and not the real market conditions that the farm tenant is trying to farm in ?.
Thats the idea of a market. The rent offerer will take all that into account when assessing what he can pay. However each will take a different view of the value to them (and thus how much of the profit to offer), future farm prospects etc. So the economics of farming are inherent to any market comparable system. What the review group now proposes is to “set” some of those issues by making the evidence historic (last 3 yrs) and the profit share 50/50. They then suggest, somewhat ironically, that as a cross check you might see what everyone else is paying!
Marriage value, comparables, short leases,land court, there are no lengths to which landlords will not go to strip the maximum capital out of the rural economy to the detriment of all concerned.
If you look at the returns that LL get vis a vis the capital value or even if they had the land in hand you’d see that LLs actually get a very modest return – a point Andrew Thin made in his various meetings round the country.
If you bought the farm with debt, which many would have to, where do you think the interest and repayments go? And they’d be much much greater than the rent currently paid.
Landlords get a tremendous return on their ACTUAL investment. Several thousand percent i would wager.
The return they make on confiscated tenants improvements is astronomic too, since an asset obtained by coercion for zero commanding a rent of £1000 is a return of infinity.
I assume that you agree that the landlord of an estate has a certatain influence over his/ her tenants .
Maybe you should get in touch with Scottish Tenant Farmers Association to give you plenty examples of how unfair the system is .
In the context of landlord and tenant , power comes in the form of owning property and having lots of money .
With you being landlord of Tesco you will be bricking it because the rent in future will probably not be as high as it is just now .
But go back 4 years and who had the power you or Tesco ?.
What power does a LL have over a 1991 Act T? If the tenant pays the rent then his security is bomb proof, they’d have freedom of cropping, rights to diversify etc. Clearly the parties have to work amicably over the level of rent (but there’s a statutory process to protect) new equipment etc. And from the figures clearly for most tenants (and LLs) that works well.
I have worked with STFA for some years through the TFF and am well aware that some of the cases they bring are genuine and I know SLE has attempted to help in a number of cases. They are also a “union” for there members and have very cleverly played a political game to try and get a result which suits many of the 1991 act members. That is to buy their farms or get themselves into a position where they get some sort of value from their tenancy. Interestingly when I’ve spoken to new entrants and aspiring young farmers they see STFAs approach as often very unproductive for them.
The approach of SL & E is very unproductive to farming generally, not just new entrants.
They advocate not letting land due to RTB when they know full well it does not apply to LDTs.
They would rather lay waste to scotland than admit their time is past.
They use the new entrants group as cannon fodder to defeat the legitimate aims of tenants to protect each other.
They sign up to all sorts of codes of practice while their members do the opposite.
Oh Hector, your back on form. I do though have to point out that what you are saying is absolute hogwash, especially the bit about RTB. I have no idea who you are or what your circumstances actually are, but clearly you are an unhappy person and I am sorry if you are in a difficult spot. Hopefully some of the progress being made might help you. However, some of us are actively working to try and make the whole tenanted sector better for everyone – in that regard I back the Ag Holdings Review’s ambition and vision completely. Others like you clearly do not share that vision and want to paint a picture of a broken sector – for whatever motive you have. What is clear from the findings of both the Scot Govt survey and the many meetings and discussions the Ag Holdings Review Group had is that you are in a minority.
Every word is true, the only hogwash comes from your keyboard.
And if you are supporting the AHRG, it just proves how toothless that is.
James, I do agree that the landlord of an estate has a certain influence over his/her tenants. I assume that you agree that the tenants of an estate have a certain influence over their landlord.
I did get in touch with the STFA once and they never even replied to me! But that apart I don’t doubt for a second they could give me lots of examples of hard cases. But just because there are hard cases doesn’t mean the system is fundamentally broken. Although I agree it was a bit daft of Lochead to gild the lily by including the “neithers” in the “satisfieds”, the fact remains that quite a big majority of tenants seem to be OK with things.
I bet you could gather thousands of examples of employees who think they’ve been unfairly treated by their employers but does that mean the concept of employment as a whole is fundamentally wrong? Or that just because lots of people have unhappy marriages that marriage should be abolished.
As for the Tesco thing, yes I expect four years ago landlords would love to have had them knocking on their door. Although having said that, Tesco are (were?) such a big customer, landlords may have felt under pressure to make concessions get them in as anchor tenants. But it just shows how things can change in an unpredictable way. It’s not all as black and white (landlord = bad, rich, powerful; tenant = good, poor, weak) as you’re implying.
Amusing to yet again read the rhetoric of high land values and repayments to rubbish the idea of purchasing the farm. If through taxation we can significantly reduce the cost of land, will we hear a change in attitude from this same section? i doubt it.
Young inexperienced potential new entrants do not like 91 act tenants, period!
As for my next suggestion towards categorising a bad landlord: proportion of rent accrued, that is reinvested on holding. For myself this is quite shocking, four generations of rent payments, amounting to a six figure sum. Land lords investment; a set of soft wood windows 30 years ago and £600 worth of march fencing 3 years ago. CRTB triggered. Oh and by the way the tenant will channel this application through a newly formed land commission. Not the land court.
I’m not rubbishing it merely pointing out the reality of where we are. I happen to agree with you that land values are too high – they bear no relation to the productive capacity – but we are where we are.
From what they said one of the reasons the new entrants were grumpy with 1991 act tenants was they couldn’t believe how cushy a position they had yet they heard a good deal of complaining from a minority which when compared with their position made them pretty cross. Not my view – theirs.
The landlords responsibilities as reagrds fixed equipment is clear and can’t be measured by what is spent annually. Some LLs have no liability because of a PLA. We built a shed on a let farm 18 months ago where the cost was about 16 x the annual rent. And we’d spent on other things. I’d happily limit it to a % of rent on some farms but it wouldn’t suit the tenant.
You know full well what is going on .
Landlord asks for an excessive rent increase .
Tenant cannot believe the amount of rent asked for .
Landlord threatens farm tenant with Scottish Land Court .
Tenant is quickly advised to pay the rent because the costs of going to S L C are crippling especially if you lose .
Tenant pays farm rent , but not from the profits of the farm , but from members of his family or his life savings .
And you have the audacity to ask what power the landlord has over a secure tenant .
If you were correct we’d be seeing rapidly escalating rents which bore no relation to farm returns or historic patterns. But we don’t do we. Even Andrew Thin repeatedly said he’d seen no evidence that rents were anything other than good value. And with LDTs and contract arrangements farmers, of their own free will, offer to pay rents or other payments hugely above 1991 rents. So frankly I think your assessment is miles off the mark.
Anyway we will soon have a new system and we’ll what that brings. Will be interesting if it leads to increases in rent. What system will you want then? Rent control? Thats always been a great success!
What is the return on farm tenant’s capital ?.
The landlords return comes from providing the farm and it’s generally accepted at about 1-2%. The tenant gets his return from his capital. Unless you believe the provison of farms should be free then you will have to pay either the bank or another owner to farm.
We all know that is tripe, since the tenant has to provide the bulk of the fixed equipment.
Thats why lairds hated LDT,s as they HAD to put eveything right from day 1
I dispute that. The bulk of the fixed equipment here is ours. On the dairy units approx 50% is the tenants but the farms are not let as dairy units so they don’t pay dairy rates. All improvements accepted as such.
We have 6 LDTs 5 of which are equiped farms.
Even if the tenant has provided the FE they don’t pay rent on it.
I dont doubt that is the case on your estate, but there are many more where it is not the case.
I have in front of me documents which show how a farmer drained a whole farm at great expense , yet received no compensation when he left.
Those drains are still working 150yrs later, gathering an enhanced rent for todays laird.
Draining doubles the value of any land, so what return is the landlord making thanks to another mans money?
What in % terms is the return on tenant farmers capital ?. What would he /she hope to make ?.
Depends on the farm. Higher on arable, probably lower on dairy. I’d have to work it out from our own business but it will be a heck of a lot higher than 1-2%.
What influence can a farm tenant have with the landlord . Very little , if any !.
Am i right in thinking that Andrew Thin was a Factor of some Estate?
Can’t be categoric but I’d be very surprised. I first became aware of him when he wrote the “manefesto” for the Scottish Tenant Farmers Action Group in 2002/03. Latterly he has been Chairman of SNH. If you think he may be in the “lairds” camp I can with confidence rule that out!
As Chairman of SNH he was not in any environmental camp either.
Andrew Thin, Estate management, Ardtornish Estate. ?
A quick google check says he was a Director until 2007.
Talk about conflict of interests , or did anyone ask ??
We have had Dr Alison Elliot as chairperson of Scottish Land Review Group who I believe is a close relation to one of the wealthiest landowners in Scotland .
We have Andrew Thin being mentioned NOW as being previously involved with Estate MANAGEMENT at Ardtornish .
I am now expecting Andrew Howard to complete this farce by being appointed as the new TENANT FARMING COMMISSIONER .
This is like King Herod being in charge of the little boys kindergarden .
What is this Scottish Government playing at ???
What a good idea. I might apply. Can I count on your vote?
When attending a AHLRG meeting, i found one person intriguing. When tenants were explaining challenging situations, this person was clearly rolling their eyes. When i speak with my MSP next i will be suggesting that any new group that gets established are free from individuals who have a sympathetic background to the management of Estates.
On the subject of conflicts of interest where the membership of the AHLRG is concerned:-
*Iain Mackay is a TENANT
*Hamish Lean’s firm acted for the TENANT in the Moonzie case and Hamish himself gave evidence for the TENANT in Moonzie. Hamish also represented the TENANT in the Roxburgh Mains case.
*Crispin Agnew represented the TENANT in Moonzie in the Land Court and then at appeal in the Court of Session!
In fact double WOW!!!!
Coming from a lawyer , that statement beggars belief. Too much red wine again?
Well said Gentle Dove. I can ‘categorically say with confidence’ that Andrew Thin will be a Pheasant Shooter rather than a Pheasant plucker!
I think that your last post to Gentle Dove encapsulates the haughtiness and arrogance of Scottish Land and Estates !.
Its called a joke! It may not have been a fantasic one but I don’t think thin skins are quite so necessary.
Andrew is just being true to himself.
The make up of the group was wrong from the start, too many lawyers and academics and not enough EXPERIENCED tenant farmers and neutrals.
Andy wightman and jim hunter should have been on it.
With the greatest of respect the idea that Andy and Jim Hunter are neutrals is quite extraordinary.
Gentle dove’s concern was not with the committee , but with the people who were chosen to act as chair . Is a chairperson not chosen for their fairness of judgement ?.
You have only to look at the alleged sex scandals at Westminster to see how far they have gone to get the right person for the job .
That is good judgement , to me anyway .
Just on a point of fact, the Ag Holdings Review Group was chaired by the Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead and not Andrew Thin.
Such a group should not have tenants or Estate people on it. That’s the whole point of going out and asking tenants and Estates their view, and then to have educated neutrals delivering their findings to the government.
p.s. Andrew thin Chaired the meeting i was at.
I would agree SS, in this case there were no Estate people on the Review Group, but as has been pointed out already there was strong tenant representation. I think each of the Review Group members chaired meetings at times, but the Review itself was chaired by Richard Lochhead.
Doug, i agree with you, from the earlier meetings and smaller group discussions Andrew Thin ruled out ARTB, we were disappointed. A more open minded member would have been fairer, his previous employment with Ardornish made it a bit weighted. Perhaps a 91 act tenant was the only representative missing, if we are going to ‘load’ the committee.
I attended 3 meetings that Andrew Thin was involved in . Although he did not appear as a chairman , he definitely was the main driving force , with other members looking towards him regularly for leadership . On hindsight I now realise that he had his own agenda which the others followed . To me whether he was chairman or not he came over as the main speaker at these meetings .
Archie, I don’t think it is right to discuss individuals and views on their motivations etc so I’ll bow out of this blog now. Thanks for the exchanges.
I think thats a wise sentiment Doug. I’ll add one final comment on the AHRG members. No one complained about them when they were appointed.
Doug and Neil
Where was the strong tenant representation ?.
Iain MacKay is on a very insecure lease on his farm , so I would imagine he would need to watch what he said or he would lose his farm and probably not manage to get another . No strength there . In fact weakness . This is the power factor working ! .
The two very prominent lawyers have acted for both landlords and farm tenants and both do very well .
So where do you see strong tenant representation ?.
Doug and Andrew
Who could you complain to ?.
Wait a minute, whats all this “not right to discuss individuals” and “wise sentiment” now bowing out and final comment? Who was it a few posts ago that was using Thin’s name willy-nilly? Unable to dust your tracks down so just leg it as fast as possible. This kind of thing makes me mad. So mad that i am going to print out this blog and hand it to some MSPs and show them just what a pathetic mess this whole episode has been.
The problem was that contributors were calling into question the impartiality and perhaps integrity of review group members. Having participated in the process I think this is grossly unfair – and I imagine that will be the view of the MSPs you show it to as well. I suggest therefore the focus should be on the proposals the group have put forward not the group itself. I think its perfectly proper to quote what they said at public meetings.
Andrew, its a sad day when we cant scrutinise group members. The exchanges here have shone light on just exactly who had influence within the group. Yes impartiality was questioned, and the MSPs will be told why. Remember it was just a few posts up that you were confident that A Thin had no previous link with an Estate.
I said I’d be very surprised and I was but I doubt that had a bearing on matters. I don’t think the exchanges have shed any light at all. You may well be frustrated you didn’t get what you wanted – neither did I – which is hardly surprising given the range of opinions they would have been faced with. Let us know how you get on with your MSP.
Andrew, i find it a bit rude when you point out tenant distress and frustration, then finish off some of your posts with silly jokes and taking the micky. “let us know how you get on with your MSP”
I see that thin skins are infectious. I will be genuinely interested to hear what your MSP thinks about the suggestion the AHRG was in some way improperly conduction / biased towards owners or whatever the charge is. I suspect he will also suggest you’re barking up the wrong tree.
Thanks for thinking of doing this . It is time that our M S Ps know what is going on .
Neil and Doug
Where was the strong tenant farmer representation ?.
GD, I was being ironic.
I regret it now but it was a pretty pathetic failed attempt at introducing a bit of levity as an antidote to you getting all hot under the collar about Andrew Thin once having been involved in the management of Ardtornish Estate.
It’s just a group making recommendations. Lobby your MSP for the final decision.
Come on now ANDREW .
Ducking and diving again ?.
You do not think that we would be so naive as to think that a huge organisation like Scottish Land and Estates which has very large resources of money and who pay very big payments to the many people who work for them , did not check out each individual member on the panel ?
Is this another of your jokes ?.
Check out?! All the committee members were well known to all sides of the industry and were regarded as a good group to carry out the work. Certainly I heard no complaints from STFA or NFUS at the time. If anything I’d say the SG bent over backwards to ensure the group had the confidence of tenants – see Neil’s contribution above. SLE then contributed at each stage, made submissions that all in the public domain and our members went to public meetings. The group visited some members just as they visited tenants. All in all not really much to complain about in process terms. Am I delighted with the result – NO. But I don’t think for one minute the group didn’t discharge their duties properly or succumb to undue influence. They just have a different view from me.
Sorry to disappoint but you’re not going to find any cloak and dagger or smoke filled rooms in this one.
Check out ?.€$$$
I thought that was only at your local TESCO store !. Just a joke .
I know that you enjoy using TESCO as a comparable though .
Anyway , at all those meetings S L and E have talked the talk now it is time for you to walk the walk Or are we going to get the same excuses we have had from S L and E since 2003 about fear of Right to Buy ?.
More tax incentives ?. I am sure you already more on your list
You may dress your comments up as irony now , but at the time you thought you were stating facts .
They *are* facts!
As far as most tenants were concerned we did think that this group would be a good one, after all it was chaired by Richard Lochhead whose SNP party was quoted in 2003 to be in support of the Absolute Right to Buy for tenant farmers who have a secure 91 lease. (quote by Fergus Ewing ) As for the individual members, well most of us hadn’t even heard of the majority of them ! Even members of SLaE didn’t know the background of certain members,
My problem is trying to find a reason why the members arrived at the conclusions in their final report about the ARTB. It would appear that they believe that creating more Farming Owner Occupiers would NOT create more tenanted land coming onto the market.
Evidence is there to show that it WOULD in actual fact, create more tenanted land. This is something that I will be pursuing with the ScotGov, and asking where the evidence was that brought this group to the conclusion about ARTB.
It is only now by scrutinising the members of the group, in a bid to understand their apparent logic, that we have uncovered more questions. This is what recent posts have been about, so let’s not bring it down to the lowest common denominator by suggesting cloak and dagger stuff ! It is simply a blog to share or thoughts and views and more importantly, questions. If these questions have caused certain groups unease, then so be it.
I am unhappy with the final report, but not for a moment do I believe that the report didn’t arrive on the desk of SLaE with nothing less than utter relief and joy. This report was, and still is, all about the ARTB…let’s not kid ourselves on that one.
A smoke screen of anxiety is being put up by landed estates asking us to believe that after waiting generations for a 91 year lease to come to an end, they will now have to wait a further 35 years to get the land back is a hardship …..oh my heart bleeds !
What recommendations will ScotGov take forward from this report to their “radical” Land Reform Bill ?
We tenants still have work to do, but we have justice on our side and the will of a Scottish Government to address the fact that 432 people own more than half the privately owned land in Scotland . ScotGov said they would have “Failed” if their new Land Reform Bill didn’t rectify that.
The group were clear that they saw no evidence that ARTB would create a new generation of landlords – except for some short term agreements. I imagine that evidence came from the owner occupier survey and the evidence all around Scotland that owner occupiers do not (with one or two rare exceptions) offer long term leases. I know we’ve had the blog about Norway etc but a lot of the European figures quoted do not set out how many of those are intra-family arrangements putting holdings back together.
You then ask LLs not to hide behind smoke screens. ARTB has been ruled out but you and others have made it clear you’re going to carry on agitating for it. Do you share any of the responsibility for a lack of confidence.
The impact of two of the major changes is dismissed by you rather lightly. Its seems to me a reasonable quid pro quo in having security of tenure that constraints should exist on who the tenancy can be left to. The current rules allow families to pass the lease to their direct heirs which in the vast majority of cases covers how farms are farmed. What is now proposed is both a significant widening of succession rights and the ability of the tenant to sell his lease. These are very significant retrospective changes to the contractual relationship which greatly diminish the flexibility of the owner to manage their own property and probably create a nigh on perpetual tenancy. It’s hard to see many landlords receiving that news with “utter relief and joy’.
And the 432 stuff. ARTB won’t make any difference. Most of that land won’t be let, it will be open hill, and even if 1 or 2 thousand tenants bougt their farm do you really think that catchy stat would shift much? Barely at all would be my guess. Its a massive distraction.
“A catchy stat” and “a massive distraction” for the few; A harsh reality for the many.
If all land was equal in quality and productiveness you would have cause to wonder at the effect of such concentration of ownership. But land isn’t like that. It’s owned by relatively few (taking at face value the claim) because by and large it is very un-productive land. How many own the other 50% of privately owned land? The good bits. Tens of thousands of people. Its a catchy stat alright but still a distraction when ‘use’ should be to the fore not ownership and other means of engageing communities such as community planning in the planning system which doesn’t require ownership change which is expensive, disruptive and for the resources will benefit only small numbers of people.
I’ve often wondered why other resource doesn’t in for such scrutiny. I read today that 50% of Scotland’s distilleries were overseas owned, how many people own our bus companies, our oil industry etc etc. Not many usually and can’t hear you all jumping up and down about that.
In a way i can see how the 432 is a distraction because it has done its job now really. Focus now needs to be on local communities and the proportion of land owned privately. In my area the two big landowners have all the productive land and the hill ground. I think a bigger distraction is factors claiming we should be thankful that a landowner is willing to take responsibility for the hills. They also own all the housing and are constructing houses in one of the nearby towns, effectively clearing people off the rural areas. The productive land which is close to services is such a fundamental need for everyone. And from that we need to be able to live and develop as a community. Now, it looks like where a community can show how their prosperity and to be quite frank living standards are getting poorer then we can force the Landlord to sell. When you ask a Landlord if you can buy a derelict cottage to provide a home for your young family and the reply is NO “its not part of the estates plans” then i am afraid it has everything to do with ownership and nothing to do with land use. This Conditional Right To Buy (CRTB) could be the key to saving dying out communities.
I’m not saying you should be thankful that landowners own the hills merely that to equate a acre of hill and an acre of productive farmland or urban land is clearly not correct but that’s sort of what the 432 thing does.
Anyway lets not be distracted by a distraction. If you live in an area where property is left vacant when there is obvious demand then I’m not going to support that if the estate has no plan for it. I think local authorities already have powers to address this but appear to be reluctant to use them – probably because of the cost associated with buying and more importantly renovating the property. This should be looked at further to understand why they don’t. Certainly looking to optimise the use of property is something we should all aspire to.
So where is the irony then ?.
GD, it’s possible for something to be both factual and ironic at the same time but I’m not going to clog up the interesting points being made by others by batting this back and forward with you any more.
Why do you think large areas of land were ” given ” to those who carried out services for the victorious king or queen ?.
Some were and many bought it. Although some familiar names remain there’s been a big change who owns the land since the 1872 census.
Why is so much land in scotland unproductive?
Its because it is owned by people disinterested in agriculture or the welfare of society.
They are quite happy to see bogs growing bigger and rushes spreading over formerly arable land.
Such a sight is abhorrent to a farmer, who would stop it given the chance, but the chance is denied by those 432 and others.
It is well accepted that the hills of scotland were far more productive when the highlanders cattle grazed them, the herbage was richer and more diverse, and consequently so was the wildlife.
The clearances and the sheep ruined all that, and now it is used as an excuse to continue the pillage of scotland by the 432 landed elite.
Its a bit like someone stealing your car and wrecking it, then when you ask for it back they say, oh look its ruined, its no use to anyone, i may as well keep it.
Because it’s high, wet and with very little soil for starters. I quite accept that cattle have an environmental benefit in upland landscapes but we can’t ignore economics. We’re not going to go back to a subsistence agricultural system so agricultural use is going to be determined by the economics of farming. The monitor farms in this area showed for suckler herds that only those on the coast broke even with losses increasing as you went up the hill topping off at losses of £300 / head per annum. Shorter season, higher feed costs, sheds etc. The only way you’ll farm large parts of the uplands of Scotland with cattle is with bucket loads of subsidy. So I think the conversation about what to do with our upland landscape needs to start to extend well beyond farming.
Worth also bearing in mind that very significant areas of upland Scotland are considered environmentally important areas with agricultural activity being reduced for environmental purposes.
No one’s pillaging anybody. There are a multitude of objectives for our landscape from sport (no subsidy) to farming and forestry (lots of subsidy) to environmental objectives. I would certainly welcome a debate about what and where priorities should be but whatever the result I doubt it would be to go back to early Victorian times.
Better to subsidise farmers than absentee owned shooting estates.
I dont accept any of your arguements, cattle are good for the hills, and there is no land on earth that cannot be improved once the dead hand of lairdism is removed.
What subsidies do absentee owned shooting estates get, hector?
Setting aside that there aren’t any subsidies for sporting activity I’m not arguing that cattle aren’t good for hills – or at least most hills. What I’m pointing out is that farming them needs a huge subsidy and at the rate we’re going a greater subsidy than that which Europe provides. The loss of upland farming is not unique to Scotland. I saw it in Norway when there and they have pretty much the highest subsidies for farming in the world. “Lairdism” has nothing to with this. It’s economics.
Lairdism has everything to do with it.
Where a farmer can improve land and therefore increase its carrying capacity he will, and usually net an increased return.
Where there is no farmer, or a rent racked tenant, no such improvement can happen. Subsidies are a side show.
Vast and growing areas of scotland now have no farmer input, just a gamekeeper managed from some remote office.
Please answer the question .
Why was land given to those who carried out services for a queen or a king ?.
Presumably as a reward but I fail to see the importance as I’m not aware of such “gifts” in the modern era. Since the time when that did happen a huge amount of change has occurred so what is the benefit in exercising ourselves about what happened hundreds of years ago? If you planning to right some wrong how do you plan to identify the wrong, the perpetrator and the victim?
Was it not so that the ” landowner ” had total power over who lived and worked on the ” estate ” .
Abide by the landowner’s rules or get out .
It was the medieval equivalent of what happens today when a prime minister forming a government offers important ministerial posts to his supporters (as a reward) and/or rivals (to keep them on side). They did things differently centuries ago in ways which seem surprising to us now and I have not a shadow of a doubt that in centuries to come people will look back at us and think positively barbaric things that we today consider perfectly acceptable.
As that’s not the case now and hasn’t been for a long time I still fail to see the relevance of this line of argument.
The point I am trying to make is that feudalism that was very active many centuries ago is still very active in Scotland .
What other countries in Europe have still got this feudal power of a few people over so many as in Scotland ?.
432 people have feudal power over half the land of Scotland . Do you think that is right ?.
By no commonly accepted definition is our society feudal. I know it suits a political narrative to use the term but it’s incorrect. We have a perfectly normal system of ownership and rental arrangements which can be found throughout Europe and the rest of the developed world. So if we’re feudal (which we’re not) so are they.
The scale of some holdings in Scotland is hardly surprising when one considers Scotland has by some way the largest % of LFA land in the EU.
Am I bothered. Not in the least if the land is used appropriately and I’ve seen no convincing evidence, in fact none at all, to suggest that the relevant land is not being used appropriately. Perhaps you could point me to it?
Feudalism is very much alive today.
Which other industry or culture has to ask the landowner’s permission to spend one’s own money to sort another man’s property or permission to diversify only to hand over a share of the income?
Or the feudal system whereby the tenant is rarely included in any decisions made by an unknown board of people (who may not even live in Scotland!) yet these ‘decisions’ can and do affect the lives of the tenants and their families.
Or, that Sword of Damocles, the power of a landowner to evict.
1991 tenant, you ask:-
“Which other industry or culture has to ask the landowner’s permission to spend one’s own money to sort another man’s property or permission to diversify only to hand over a share of the income?”
Every industry which rents premises. Which means nearly all of them.
As Neil has already said it’s a normal relationship where one party leases anothers property. If you’re repairing then that’s your responsibility anyway (most commercial tenants are responsible for repairs renewals and insurance); if an improvement the landlord should have provided I think (haven’t got the act to hand) that you need only notify and will get compensation and as you pay rent for a agricultural holding using it for a different purpose it doesn’t seem unreasonable that you pay an appropriate rental element to cover that use. You’d need to pay it to rent property for that alternative use elsewhere.
If you’re landlord does not keep you abreast of decision making that is unfortunate although as you have full security and freedom of cropping its unhelpful though I’m not sure I see how that constitutes a sword of damocles hanging over you.
Speaking in riddles again !.
When did every become nearly all . WOW !!!.
Archie, sorry if I didn’t express myself clearly enough.
1991 tenant’s question was:-
“Which other industry or culture has to ask the landowner’s permission … [etc. as above]”
My answer to that was every industry that rents premises to operate from.
As every industry needs premises to operate from, and nearly all of these industries rent at least some of these premises, then I think that means nearly every industry has to ask a landowner’s permission (etc. as per 1991 Tenant’s question).
Does that make sense?
It prompts me to make another couple of points. Why should farmers above all other industries be feather nested in their tenancy arrangements? Particularly when you’re already bloated to the eyeballs on public subsidy? Perhaps you should be made to all go cold turkey and sink or swim with no special treatment?
Now I personally don’t believe all of that cheap shot portrayal (some of it, though!) but be prepared in an increasingly UKIP and similarly populist extreme world to be asked searching questions like that by townie MSPs who want rock bottom cheap milk for their constituents.
So when you’re continuing to lobby for ARTB, please for heavens sake don’t go talking about how you’re going to be renting out the land you’ve so dearly won on the back of claims you need it for yourself and your family. Yes, I get what Slurry Stirrer (the only one who speaks any sense here) said about ARTB bringing about a new class of “yeoman farmer” who will rent land in and out to each other as occasion and opportunity dictate (hope’s a fair representation of your point SS) but I’d be inclined to downplay the renting out thing in the battle for the right to buy it!
I am glad you said that only slurry stirrer speaks sense on this forum, because you certainly dont.
Claiming that tenants are featherbedded on subsidy is quite laughable, the lairds wrote the land laws 350 years ago so they could have all the feathers and golden slippers while the tenants got a bed of nails and like it or lump it.
hector, you’ve got your head so firmly rooted in the past you’ve overlooked the laws written in the last 75 years …
I totally disagree with your comments .
With half the land being owned by so few , it is the people living in rented farms or houses who are under the heel of feudalism . The landlord has huge control over their tenants .
What do you not believe of your cheap shot portrayal ?. You have painted a very blurred picture of your thoughts .
Well, Fiona, when the firm I used to work for was negotiating a lease of office space, the landlord said we could have a lease for X years with no breaks, take it or leave it. I remember thinking I wish we were farmers under a 1991 Act tenancy so that we could stay as long as we liked and – equally importantly – bog off when ever we liked without having to be responsible for the rent to the end of the lease if the landlord couldn’t relet the space. And you could throw in that we didn’t get a cheque from the EU for each square metre of the office either …
Don’t bother to tell me that an office is not the same as a farm. I know. I get it. You talk about a blurred picture. Life’s like that. Not black and white. But be prepared for some townie MSP who’s just come out of a surgery after having his ear bent by a constituent who’s (unsubsidised) business has gone bust and he’s had to make his staff redundant after being stiffed over a lease of an office (or shop, pub, garage, whatever). He might be less than sympathetic to farmers …
“A good constituency MSP will seek to do what they can to resolve any problems or issues the constituent has. If I were an MSP I would happily visit landowners and seek to assist them in any way I could.”
Of course if you are an absentee landowner and/or offshore your ownership to avoid taxes then you aren’t a constituent. Of course the employees of an estate will be constituents, but let’s not extend representation without taxation to those who actually make less contribution than their fair share.
Is it just Scottish tenant farmers who get farm subsidy in Europe ?.
Many secure tenant farmers are 3, 4 or longer generation farmers . Are you willing to put an end to the family farm ?. Think of the time , labour and investment that this one family have put into THEIR family farm over all these years .
But I suppose there are some people within , who wish for big agri-business to take over.
Fiona, I have never said only tenants get subsidy or that I want to put an end to family farms. And as for agri-business, what would be more relevant than enquiries into “land reform” (whatever it means) or the AHLRG would be an enquiry into farming generally to ascertain the respective merits and demerits of family farms vis a vis agri-business and what, if any, place they have with regard to food production and security and other considerations like rural population retention etc. in the short, medium and long terms. Only once you’ve decided on the macro-strategy can you then consider what changes with regard to tenure, subsidy etc. may be necessary to deliver that strategy. In other words, talking about who owns land in priority to how it is used is putting the cart before the horse.
And that’s largely the flaw in the land reform process full stop. Busy focussing on who owns what not what you want done with it.
Qu for all – when does a big family farm become agri business?
When it pushes on with high horsepower tractors forcing its way through saturated soils ruining the soil stucture because it has to cover so many acres in order to justify these overpriced tractors. Saw an advert for Case tractors ploughing through 3 feet of water and mud and the local rep said thats what sells them to large agri businesseses the ability to keep going regardless of soil conditions.
Thats bad farming practice not about scale. You can see poor farming practice at all scales.
But what differentiates family farms and agri business. In the Uk context it seems to me to be irrelevant because, with a few exceptions, we don’t have big corporations farming just different scales of family owned businesses.
The point I was trying to make is that if you have very large acres then there is an acceptable loss compared to small acres where every acre has to count .Many more awkward steep wet areas are abandoned on large acres than on smaller areas because of size of machine and time constraints.
If crofting tenure was adopted for all scottish tenanted land, with real security and rent control, and all improvements secured to the tenant, whoever actually owned the land WOULD be irrelevant.
Till that day comes, ARTB wont go away.
The AHRG started out as just that, an enquiry into the health of the farming sector viz a viz land tenure. Then somebody changed it into looking purely at the tenanted sector, which narrowed the focus and has ended in farce.
hector, the AHLRG remit of was:-
“Overarching aims of the Review
4. The Scottish Government’s vision is for a Scottish tenant farming sector that is dynamic getting the best from the land and the people farming it, and provides opportunities for new entrants, forming part of a sustainable future for Scottish farming.
5. The overarching aim of the Review Group will be to determine what policy changes and solutions are required to enable the achievement of this vision”
(Quote from http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/farmingrural/Agriculture/agricultural-holdings/review-of-legislation/Review)
Can you direct me to a link which indicates an earlier broader remit for the AHLRG than that?
I will try to find a link, but i wasnt the only one to notice the shifting of goalposts.
“Lease “”. ” landlord” ” 1991 tenancy ” ” rent” ” relet ” all in your first paragraph referred only to tenant farmers , therefore your argument was obviously about secure tenant farmers .
With nigh on 200 tenancies coming to an end each year , what is happening to this land . It must be getting swallowed up by bigger farms for ” economy of scale ” and “to spread the costs ” .
The big winners here are the landlords .
Yes, Fiona, the first paragraph of my comment (February 4, 2015 at 9:25 pm) was indeed about secure tenant farmers but where did I say only tenants get subsidy or that I want to put an end to family farms?
Whether 200 tenancies coming to an end each year and being amalgamated into bigger un-tenanted farms is a “good thing” or a “bad thing” (or neither) we do not know because it has never (so far as I know but correct me if I’m wrong) been seriously looked into. All we’re seeing just now is the SG birling around in the political wind according to which vested interest (tenant, landlord, owner-occupier, estate, big farmer, small farmer etc. etc.) is shouting at it the loudest, trying to please everybody and ending up pleasing nobody!
Just bringing the thread back on track, note from the blog that 55% of privately owned forests are absentee owned.
As we all know, this is more often due to restrictive planning policy and regulations preventing on site development and as a result preventing owner occupation. Surely proof that government backed strategies also contribute to absenteism?
” I remember thinking I wish we were farmers under a 1991 act tenancy so that we could stay as long as we liked ” .
What was that statement meant to infer ?. That there should be no continuity of a tenanted family farm
I would suggest that you wanted 1991. Act tenants to move on to create this ” churn ” so that farm tenants cannot settle in a farm but are continually looking for their upheaval to the next farm , if there is one .
This continual churn is what landlords crave for . Maximum rent for little input and no responsibility .
Fiona, the answer to your question is no and that’s not what I wanted. You have obviously misunderstood me so let’s just leave it.