Land Reform Review Group

We strongly welcomed the publication of the Land Reform Review Group (LRRG) Report: ‘The Land of Scotland and the Common Good’ as a thoughtful, comprehensive and coherent report, providing the rationale and agenda for action to achieve greater fairness and social justice in Scotland.

In particular we welcomed the inclusion of the concept of the ‘common good’, which is defined in terms of: the wellbeing of society as a whole; enriched participatory democracy; inter-generational and international environmental sustainability; economic success; greater social justice and the achievement of human rights.

Land Reform Bill

The Scottish Government’s response to the LRRG has been encouraging and we support the majority of proposals being brought forward, although how these translate into effective legislation will be critical to their success.

The main proposals which we support include:

  • A Land Rights and Responsibilities Policy which will ensure that momentum is maintained behind land reform and that successive governments will have a responsibility to the established policy
  • A Scottish Land Reform Commission which could provide an important and continuous review mechanism for land policy with resource for policy research and analysis, and an expanded evidence base
  • The proposal for ministers to intervene through a sustainable development test
  • The proposed measures for greater transparency arrangements on who owns land in Scotland

The main proposal we have concern about is:

  • The introduction of a duty on charity trustees to engage with communities when taking land management decisions, which will place a burden on thousands of charities who are not causing a land problem

Duty on charity trustees

The new duty on charities would impose a potentially bureaucratic process on thousands of charities with land assets. The vast majority of charities are already engaging well with communities and are responsive to their needs. However, for many land owning charities engaging with their community may not be appropriate or possible.

Take ‘Glebes’ which are small plots of land owned by the Church of Scotland but rented out to farmers as an example. Would the church have to consult each time the farmer changed the crop or the livestock?

In addition, the proposals would not address the very small minority of charities who are acting as a barrier to a community’s ambitions. Engagement is only useful if both sides are committed to the process. If the party in the position of power does not wish to listen or act then the duty becomes simply a tick box exercise, with the community further disempowered by participating in a process they know is meaningless. It is also not clear why charities are being singled out with a duty to engage whereas other sectors are not.

If the problem that this proposal is trying to address is that of individuals misusing charitable status through family trusts to avoid tax, then OSCR should be using its regulatory powers to investigate the governance and financial arrangements of these bodies to ensure they are complying with charity law and delivering public benefit.

If there is a strong desire to take action in this area an alternative to placing a duty on all charity trustees would be to make the duty contingent on a request being made by the community. In this way the burden would be removed from those many uncontentious land-owning charities and would place it more firmly on those who are acting as a barrier to development.

Crown Estate

The Smith Commission recommends the devolution of the Crown Estate. Many third sector organisations supported the devolution of the Crown Estate to the Scottish Parliament, as did SCVO’s submission to the Smith Commission. Following devolution to Holyrood, it will be important that management and control of Crown Estate resources should be further devolved to the direct control of communities.

Conclusion

We welcome the commitment to land reform that is outlined in the policy motion and hope that it will ensure momentum is maintained as legislation is brought forward.

We would urge conference to vote against proposal F ‘That there should be a specific duty on charitable trustees when considering management, use or transfer of any land they must engage with the local community and consider the impact on the local community before a decision is taken’, unless this is limited to where a community requests such engagement.

Without this important limitation the proposal would place a significant bureaucratic burden on many charities without addressing any of the problems that may be associated with a very small minority of land-owning charities and this was not a recommendation of the Land Reform Review Group.

Supported by: Community Land Scotland, Development Trusts Association Scotland, Community Woodlands Association

Contact:

Felix Spittal
Policy Officer

Fairways House
Fairways Business Park
Inverness
IV2 6AA

Email: felix.spittal@scvo.org.uk
Tel: 01463 251 724
Web: www.scvo.org.uk

About us

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is the national body representing the third sector. There are over 45,000 voluntary organisations in Scotland involving around 138,000 paid staff and approximately 1.3 million volunteers. The sector manages an income of £4.9 billion.

SCVO works in partnership with the third sector in Scotland to advance our shared values and interests. We have over 1,600 members who range from individuals and grassroots groups, to Scotland-wide organisations and intermediary bodies.

As the only inclusive representative umbrella organisation for the sector SCVO:

  • has the largest Scotland-wide membership from the sector – our 1,600 members include charities, community groups, social enterprises and voluntary organisations of all shapes and sizes
  • our governance and membership structures are democratic and accountable – with an elected board and policy committee from the sector, we are managed by the sector, for the sector
  • brings together organisations and networks connecting across the whole of Scotland

SCVO works to support people to take voluntary action to help themselves and others, and to bring about social change.

Further details about SCVO can be found at www.scvo.org.uk