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TENANTS RIGHT TO BUY MUST NOT BECOME A POLITICAL FOOTBALL

TENANTS RIGHT TO BUY MUST NOT BECOME A POLITICAL FOOTBALL

 The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association is calling on the Scottish Government to put its’ land reform cards on the table and not to allow the debate over tenant farmers’ right to buy to become a political football.  Following discussions with members at the RHS, STFA has concluded that the government must now clarify its intentions over land reform and the extension of the tenant’s right to buy and undertake a study of Scotland’s land tenure structure as a matter of urgency. 

 Speaking after the Show chairman Christopher Nicholson said; “We are pleased that after the Cabinet Secretary’s comments at the RHS the way is now open for an open debate over land ownership and an absolute right to buy for tenant farmers.  For the last decade ARTB has been the elephant in the room and the mere mention of it drives landlords to man the barricades but it is now time to take a good look at the underlying reasons for the drive for it and an examination of the detail and implications of implementing ARTB. 

“There is a general mood to create a more diverse land ownership structure in Scotland and extending the tenants right to buy may or may not be part of the equation.  However, an informed debate over ARTB can only take place if we know what we are talking about. So it is imperative that the government commissions a survey of land ownership and land tenure throughout Scotland as soon as possible.  The Cabinet Secretary’s recent comments on ARTB have moved the goalposts and STFA has written to the recently re-invigorated Land Reform Review Group to request that their decision to exclude consideration of tenancy matters be reversed and their remit extended to include a scrutiny of land tenure in light of changing circumstances.  

“The agricultural industry is facing a huge amount of uncertainty just now with CAP reform and the independence question.  On top of that the tenanted sector is in decline and beset with endemic problems such as a failing rent review system and a lack of opportunity for new entrants.  These and many other issues will be considered during the promised review of agricultural tenancies, but that review must take place in light of the broader policy issues which will emerge following a thorough study of land ownership and tenure.  We cannot discuss the merits and demerits of ARTB in a vacuum and a review must take account of the different challenges faced by tenants and rural communities in different parts of the country and identify appropriate solutions.”

ROYAL HIGHLAND SHOW 20 – 23 JUNE

ROYAL HIGHLAND SHOW 20 – 23 JUNE

STFA at the Highland Show will again be welcoming members and friends on to the stand which will be located on 4th Avenue by the West Gate.

Come by, rest your legs, meet friends and fellow tenants and have some refreshments. We look forward to seeing you there!

STFA CALL FOR ACTION ON LAND TENURE

STFA CALL FOR ACTION ON LAND TENURE

STFA CALL FOR ACTION ON LAND TENURE

 Dr Jim Hunter’s recent stinging attack on the SNP government’s lack of progress with land reform represents the latest twist in the saga of the ill-fated Land Reform Review Group and comes as no surprise to the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association.   STFA has already expressed its’ incredulity and disappointment at the LRRG’s decision to reject consideration of farm tenancies in its review of land reform despite almost a third of Scotland’s farmland being tenanted and ample evidence of the pressing need for reform.

 Commenting on Mr Hunter’s statement STFA chairman Christopher Nicholson said: “We had our reservations about this review from the start when it seemed to suffer from confusion and a lack direction.   STFA expressed these deep concerns in January to the Chair, Dr Elliot, particularly on the lack of any tenancy expertise on the advisory panel and the work programme.  This featured a disproportionate amount of time being devoted to visiting large estates.  Indeed, the only invitation taken up to meet with tenants took place on Islay.  Meetings there, both privately with tenants and a wider public meeting, clearly illustrated to the LRRG the problems and challenges being experienced by tenants and the wider community but this appears to have had no effect on the outcome of the report. 

 “Having been billed as a radical and far reaching review the work of the LRRG has turned out to be yet another anodyne report which sets out to defend and justify the status quo rather than looking for radical solutions to the land tenure system.

 “Last years’ Rent Review Group report was met with similar disappointment.  Instead of trying to modernise the rent formula to give tenants a level playing ground with affordable rents the Rent Review Group merely rubber stamped the existing system and recommended a few tweaks to the process of reviewing rents.  This major flaw in the tenanted sector will continue to cause division and bedevil relationships between landlord and tenant unless positive action is taken. 

 ““The tenanted sector is not in a good state of health, the number of tenancies is falling, opportunities for new entrants are limited as larger units swallow up any available land, farm rents are escalating on the back of a scarce open market and relationships between landlords and tenants are as bad as ever. The family farm which is the backbone of many rural communities is under threat. 

 “Dr Hunter has called for tenants to be given the right to buy their farms. There are some tenant farmers who feel trapped in a feudal time warp and see radical land reform and the right to buy as the key which would unlock their businesses and communities from economic and social stagnation.  However, STFA represents members who hold a diverse range of views on the subject and is focussing on issues currently inhibiting the tenanted sector.  STFA believes these problems being faced by tenants can be resolved by a review of the Agricultural Holdings Acts but after 10 years the TFF has failed to find workable solutions which will make a difference, and tenants are becoming increasingly frustrated.  The tenanted sector is in danger of becoming an economic backwater without the necessary investment to allow tenants to meet changes and enable their holdings to develop in line with those of owner occupiers.

 “Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead has promised a review of tenancy legislation in 2014, but this should take place with a land tenure review in the background which has identified where the tenanted sector should be in 20 or 30 years time.  This vision can only be created away from the infighting which is a regular feature of an industry influenced by powerful sectoral interests.  The Cabinet Secretary should intervene now to either direct a newly constituted LRRG to carry out this task, or to create a Lands Commission to do so instead.”

 

 

STFA WELCOMES GOVERNMENTS COMMITMENT TO REVIEW TENANCIES

STFA WELCOMES GOVERNMENTS COMMITMENT TO REVIEW TENANCIES

 

STFA WELCOMES GOVERNMENTS COMMITMENT TO REVIEW TENANCIES

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has welcomed Cabinet Secretary, Richard Lochhead’s commitment to honour his pledge to carry out a top to bottom review of the operation of Agricultural Holdings legislation in 2014.  The commitment was given at yesterday’s NFUS’ Land Tenure seminar where the Cabinet Secretary also confirmed that the government’s review would take account of any solutions which had been agreed by the Tenant Farming Forum, but also warned that the government would be prepared to intervene in the absence of agreement.

Speaking after the event STFA Chairman, Christopher Nicholson said; “We are delighted that Richard Lochhead fully intends to proceed with a thorough review of tenancy legislation.  We are only disappointed that this review is not taking place in tandem with a more holistic overview of land tenure in Scotland.  This work should have been undertaken by the Land Reform Review Group and we now believe the government has a responsibility to consider the establishment of an independent Lands Commission, untainted by sectoral interests, to look at big picture land tenure issues and paint a future vision for rural Scotland.  

“It is vitally important that the Scottish rental sector is able to accommodate the different needs and aspirations of existing tenants and new entrants.  Those attending the conference seemed to agree that while there was some need for greater flexibility in the system it must take place within the framework of existing legislation.  The importance family farms, the dangers associated with expanding agri- business and the importance of security of tenure were also stressed along with innovative ideas such as share farming.” 

Join us at NSA Highland Sheep Event

Join us at NSA Highland Sheep Event

Join us on the STFA Stand at the NSA Highland Sheep event. Members and non-members welcome.

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NSA Scotland is delighted to present a new event for 2013 – NSA Highland Sheep – on Thursday 30th May at Dingwall Auction Mart, Dingwall, IV15 9TP (by kind permission of Dingwall and Highland Marts)

The event will be of interest to sheep producers throughout the UK and incorporate every aspect of the sheep industry. Open from 9am-5pm it will include seminars, trade stands, sheep breeds societies, demonstrations and competitions. Admission £12 for adults, £6 for NSA members and free for under 16s.

STFA REACTS TO LRRG REPORT’S DECISION TO IGNORE TENANCY MATTERS

STFA REACTS TO LRRG REPORT’S DECISION TO IGNORE TENANCY MATTERS

STFA REACTS TO LRRG REPORT’S DECISION TO IGNORE TENANCY MATTERS

 The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has greeted the Land Reform Review Group’s report with incredulity.  The LRRG acknowledge considerable problems exist within the tenanted sector but state in their interim report that to address tenant farming issues would be to “stray considerably away from our remit which focuses on communities rather than relationships between individuals.” 

Most Scottish tenant farmers consider land tenure is fundamental to communities and had expected the group to address basic issues which currently prevent the best use of land in Scotland and inhibit the rural communities which the land could be sustaining.  So it is a bitter pill that the preliminary report of the LRRG indicates that the final version will sidestep core land reform questions which must be addressed in any meaningful review, if rural Scotland is to move forward in the future. 

In it’s submission to the LRRG’s call for evidence STFA contended: “There are significant problems within the tenanted sector, particularly with regard to the operation of tenancy legislation and relationships between landlords and tenants.  However, there is a further requirement to consider the bigger picture and conduct a wider examination of the role that the tenanted sector will be expected to play in the future and what contribution it should make to food production, the environment and the economic and social prosperity of local communities.  Whilst some of the technical tenancy issues can be tackled by the industry, the Land Reform Review presents an opportunity to carry out a more holistic overview of the future of Scotland’s rural communities.   This view has now been rejected by the LRRG.   

“STFA has, however, welcomed the LRRG’s intention to give further consideration to the establishment of a Land Agency, as proposed by Community Land Scotland, and would hope that its’ remit would include powers to intercede in the public interest where there is clear evidence of mismanagement or inappropriate use of land.  Achieving a healthy tenanted farm sector is undoubtedly within the public interest of rural Scotland.  

 Reacting to the report STFA Chairman Christopher Nicholson said: “I fail to understand how this review of land reform can take place without considering land tenure. With nearly a third of our farmland held under some form of tenancy agreement it is hard to believe that the LRRG has chosen to remove key agricultural land tenure matters from its land reform remit and concentrate on community issues.  When questioned at the STFA, AGM earlier this year on what constitutes a community, Dr Elliot expressed the view that the definition of a community embraced any group of people with a common interest or denominator but if that doesn’t include tenants in this review, surely the LRRG has been seriously misguided in their evidence gathering?  An opportunity is being missed for the LRRG to highlight to the Government the need to address best land use and tenure in Scotland in the next decade and beyond.

 “From the outset STFA has expressed their grave concerns about the composition of the advisory group to the LRRG and the evidence gathering.  There was a lack of agricultural and tenancy expertise and despite invitations from communities of farm tenants, only one visit has taken place so far.  However several visits have been made to estates owned by individual landlords around Scotland.

 “On the LRRG visit to Islay at the invitation of the tenant farmers on the island, the LRRG heard first hand of the difficulties experienced by the tenant farming community, views which were reinforced in a later wider public meeting that day by the local community. 

 “The LRRG report will prove to be ineffectual if it continues to ignore such burning and basic issues and abandons tenancy reform to the long grass of a stakeholder group, dominated by landed interests.  The TFF is unlikely to come up with solutions to some of the problems which tenants have managed so far to highlight to the LRRG.   There is now a strong and justifiable mood of cynicism amongst tenant farmers that they have been sidelined and an opportunity is being missed to provide vision and direction for this neglected rural community of Scotland.”

Recommended Guide to Good Practice in Rent Reviews

Recommended Guide to Good Practice in Rent Reviews

The Tenant farming Forum  recently launched a Guide to Good Practice in Rent Reviews for agricultural landlords and tenant farmers.  The aim of this Guide is to encourage  good practice and regularise the way in which rent reviews are conducted and it is hoped and expected that this guide will accompany rent review notices due to be issued in the next few days.

 To view the recommended Guide:

http://www.tfascotland.org.uk/member_website/downloads/The%20Tenant%20Farming%20Forum%20-%20Guide%20to%20Good%20Practice%20(SYREV230413)%20010513.pdf

STFA calls for sensible rent reviews

STFA calls for sensible rent reviews

STFA calls for sensible rent reviews

 

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association is urging tenants not to feel pressurised to agreeing last minute demands for unreasonable rent increases.  STFA is frustrated to discover that, despite expressing concerns to ScottishLands and Estates, there are still landlords and land agents who are leaving rent reviews to the last minute despite widespread condemnation of the practice.  Moreover there are some substantial rent rises being demanded despite last year’s appalling weather and a harsh spring.  

STFA has welcomed last week’s publication of a Guide to Good Practice for land agents as a long overdue first step in regulating landlord tenant relationships but is renewing calls for the Guide to be reinforced by a code of conduct backed by meaningful sanctions to bring maverick landlords under control. 

Commenting on the situation STFA chairman Christopher Nicholson said: “It is ironic that in a week which saw the government announce £6m in aid for farmers hardest hit by the worst spring in living memory and the publication of a code of practice for rent reviews, we hear of some land agents only starting to review rents less than a month before the term date and some outrageous rental demands.  Indeed, we have had examples of landlords trying to double rents agreed only three years ago. 

“Yet again this is clear proof of the need not only to regulate the relationship between landlord and tenant but also to bring about a change to the law to ensure that farm rents reflect the economic reality of farming rather than the frenzy of an open market which owes more to land hunger and the economics of the madhouse.  

“Although we support much of the recent Rent Review Group’s recommendations to introduce a practitioners’ guide and a code of conduct we firmly believe that there must be change to the legislation to take proper account of the profitability of farming and to create clear water between an over-heated market for new tenancies and the non-existent market for existing traditional tenancies.  We have given evidence to this effect to the Scottish parliament and will be writing the Cabinet Secretary again to reinforce our view which is shared by the overwhelming majority of tenants in Scotland.”

SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT LOSES SALVESEN RIDDELL APPEAL

SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT LOSES SALVESEN RIDDELL APPEAL

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has recorded its extreme disappointment that the UK Supreme Court has refused the Scottish Government’s appeal against the Court of Session’s ruling in the Salvesen Riddell case.  The UK’s highest law court has now confirmed that the provision in S72 of the Agricultural Holdings Act in 2003 to give additional protection to tenants in Limited Partnerships contravenes ECHR and is outside the competence of the Scottish Parliament.

In recognising the complexity of the legislation the Supreme Court has given the Scottish Government a year to correct the defective legislation and to find solutions for the competing interests of the individuals involved.  The Government will be working closely with the Parliament and industry stakeholders in identifying a suitable way forward.

Commenting on the Court’s ruling STFA chairman Christopher Nicholson said; “This news will come as a bitter blow to those tenants, families and businesses who will be affected by the court’s ruling.  The original legislation was enacted in a genuine attempt to put a stop to Limited partnerships being terminated and it is very disappointing that, 10 years on, we are  now told that the law is not competent.

“Our priority will now be to try and safeguard the interests of tenants who are affected by the legislation. Tenants who have used the legislation in good faith must not be penalised further and it is important that the rights of the 500 or so tenants still in Limited Partnerships are not prejudiced by this decision.  We have already been in discussion with government officials to this end and will be working closely with them and other stakeholders in the coming weeks and months. “

New Tenant Leader Calls for Rent Standstill

New Tenant Leader Calls for Rent Standstill

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association has called upon landlords and their agents for a rent standstill to allow tenant farmers to recover from one of the most challenging years in living memory and a rent rebate for hard pressed livestock farmers who have experienced enormous difficulties and incurred substantial losses during the recent prolonged snow storms.

In a letter to Scottish Lands and Estates and to major firms of land agents, recently appointed STFA Chairman Christopher Nicholson said that tenant farmers have been hard hit by the unbroken bad weather over the last twelve months which has resulted in disastrous harvests for arable farmers, fodder shortages and increased costs for livestock farmers.  This has all conspired to put great strain on farming businesses, which has now been compounded by the ravages of recent prolonged snow storms and a late spring.

Blackies snow 2He went on to say: “I believe that it would be in the spirit of the landlord/tenant partnership and entirely appropriate for you, as landlords, to agree not to pursue tenants for rent rises this year.  The stresses and strains of trying of survive under difficult farming conditions will only be exacerbated by rent reviews in the next few weeks.   A moratorium on rent increases for 2013 would allow tenant farming businesses some time to recover from the effects of last year and to make plans to adapt to the challeges of climate change and the likelihood of continuing extreme weather patterns as well as making provision for reduced direct support under CAP reform.

“Hill livestock farmers affected by the recent snow storms will now face reduced income from calving and lambing losses and will have to face the prospect of replacing breeding stock which have perished due to the severe weather.  This will inevitably cause major financial hardship and possible pressure from banks reluctant to extend overdraft facilities to tenant farmers.  I would ask you to consider a rent rebate for livestock farmers in this position.”

Notes for editors:

Christopher Nicholson from Wigtownshire has recently been appointed to the post of Chairman of STFA, succeeding Angus McCall who has been in the post since 2004.  Christopher farms the family farm Kidsdale near Whithorn in Wigtownshire where he runs 110 suckler cows, broiler breeder units and grows 720 acres of cereals.  He has been a director of STFA for seven years and vice chairman for the last three.  Christopher has also been chairing the NFUS Tenants Working Group for the last two years.

The Board of Directors has also appointed two vice chairmen to assist Christopher; Michael Halliday, a dairy farmer from Dumfries and Andrew Stoddart, an arable and sheep farmer from Mid-Lothian.  The new team will be assisted by STFA manager, Fiona Wallace, membership administrator, Karen Young and Angus McCall who is to remain on the Board for the next two years as executive director.

For further information and for a photograph of Christopher Nicholson please contact either:

Fiona Wallace  Tel: 01556 640211 / 07717422351 fwallace@tfascotland.org.uk

Or

Angus McCall  Tel: 07767 756840  stfa@tfascotland.org.uk