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.”