THE SCOTTISH Government has announced an additional pot of £325,000 to expand the work of the Crofting Commission in the Western Isles.

It is hoped that the creation of four new jobs within the Rural Payments and Inspections Divisions offices in Stornoway and Benbecula will give a boost to the local rural economy during the economic challenges ahead.

Rural Economy Secretary, Fergus Ewing, commented: “Now more than ever it is vital that we support our rural and island communities and ensure crofters can continue to contribute to the long-term sustainability of crofting.

“This idea was raised at a meeting with crofters in Barvas, Isle of Lewis, last November and it was clear we need to work to create new job opportunities in the Western Isles and take action to support the community.”

Crofting Commission Convener Rod Mackenzie welcomed the announcement: “This is extremely timely and will help us to further support and develop crofting, which in turn will enhance and assist our role as its regulator.

“Crofting has shaped the land use, demographics and culture of the Highlands and Islands since 1886 and still has a huge contribution to make in shaping the future of the Highlands and Islands for years to come.”

The Scottish Crofting Federation concurred: “Crofters are resilient, but this period has been extremely challenging,” said vice-chair Donald MacKinnon. “With this government-funded help we hope to see crofting not only recover but to emerge with new strengths – it is time to do things differently. This is a crucial and timely initiative. There are huge opportunities for crofting to develop new markets and enterprises and to provide the basis for population growth,” he continued. “It makes sense to have the Commission staff located where most crofts are, the Western Isles, but in time we would want to see this model emulated in other crofting areas too.”

However, the move attracted criticism from Northern Isles Liberal Democrat politicians, who suggested that more emphasis is needed on ensuring crofting legislation is fit for purpose, urging departure from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.

“As Scottish Ministers agree to plough £325k into creating crofting posts in the Western Isles, they cannot continue to ignore the need for reform in the way crofting regulation applies across the Crofting Counties,” stressed Orkney’s, Liam McArthur MSP.

“A one-size-fits-all approach is manifestly failing to take account of the significant differences in the circumstances facing crofters in Orkney compared to those in the Western Isles and other parts of the Highlands.

“For years, I have been highlighting to the Scottish Government the way in which crofting legislation is at odds with the needs of communities in Orkney,” he said. “Previously, the ‘carrot and stick’ approach worked well, providing housing and ensuring land was not neglected. However, with fewer carrots and a larger stick, the current rules simply prevent crofters from using their land effectively.

“If Ministers want to create more jobs in enforcing crofting legislation, they must also recognise the need to ensure that legislation is fit for purpose. The only way that can be achieved is through a more tailored approach that reflects the very different needs and circumstances of communities across the Highlands and Island.”.

Shetland’s Beatrice Wishart MSP added: “The current framework for crofters can work against them. A one-size-fits-all approach is short sighted – local realities are obviously very different in Shetland compared to the mainland.