Image: Aileen McLeod MSP speaking at conference on Scottish Land and Estates.

This month, the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Aileen McLeod MSP gave two significant speeches. The first was on 19th May to the Annual Meeting of Scottish Land and Estates, a representative body of 1,351 landowners who own 2.27 million hectares of Scotland. The second was on 22 May 2015 to Community Land Scotland, a representative body of over 40 community landowners who own around 200,000 hectares of land across Scotland.

The two speeches are available below. They mark an important development in Scottish Government thinking on land reform policy. Notable among the topics covered was a focus on wealth inequality and human rights. Expect to hear more about these two topics in relation to land policy across urban, rural and marines Scotland in the years to come.

Speech to SLE 19 May 2015 (pdf)

Speech to CLS 22 May 2015 (pdf)

Image: Commission on Local Tax Reform. Oral Evidence Session 2

Today, the Commission on Local Tax Reform held its second oral evidence session. I am  member of the Commission representing the Scottish Green Party. The event was streamed live and you can view the whole proceedings here together with the slides used by Stuart Adam of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. In addition to Stuart’s evidence, we heard from Professor John Baillie – a member of the Local Government Finance Review Committee (chaired by Sir Peter Burt), and  the immediate past Chair of the Audit Commission and of Audit Scotland. We also heard evidence from Ken McKay who was Head of Local Government Finance in the Scottish Office between 1989 and 1997 and was the advisor to the Burt Committee.

The Committee was established in 2004. Its remit was:

To review the different forms of local taxation, including reform of the Council Tax, against criteria set by the Executive, to identify the pros and cons of implementing any changes to the local taxation system in Scotland, including the practicalities and the implications for the rest of the local government finance system and any wider economic impact, and to make recommendations.”

The Committee published its final report on 9 November 2006 (news report here).

The current Commission is keen to learn from the experience of Sir Peter Burt’s Committee and so invited Professor Baillie and Ken Mackay. You can watch the whole session and download the slide presentation here.

I relate the following exchange in order to highlight the potential political difficulties that might lie ahead and to alert interested parties to the vital need to achieve a degree of political consensus on the findings of the Commission. The exchange speaks for itself as to the challenges of making progress in this area of public policy.

After the Chair had opened question of the witnesses , I asked why Burt had died a death before it was even published. Here is the exchange at 52 minutes and 10 seconds into the session.

Andy Wightman

I’ve got quite a few questions on the technical detail of all of this  but first of all, Ken and John, perhaps on the politics of all of this because this appears to be where Burt stumbled and where possibly the biggest challenges facing this Commission are. Why did Burt die a death before it was even published?

John Baillie

We submitted our report and we actually gave an advance copy as you would expect out of courtesy to the First Minister among others. And we heard the day before we were publishing and having our press conference that it had been dismissed. I to this day do not know why and I think the easiest way to find out the justification for that wholesale rejection is possibly to invite those who rejected it. I can speculate but it’s worthless.”

Ken Mackay

I have no …. I was inside the Scottish Office at one time and I have no idea .. and I have tried .. I have seen Jack McConnell on the golf course and I’ve often wanted to ask him .. because the Burt Committee  .. well I’d better be .. I better bite my tongue a bit because there’s politics in this especially now but they were treated appallingly. They did a very, very good piece of work and it was rubbished the day before it was published.”

The Commission is currently undertaking a public consultation. Further details here.

On Thursday this week, the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee will take evidence on the Smith Commission proposals to devolve responsibility for the administration and management of the property, rights and interests that comprise the Crown Estate in Scotland (paras 32-25 of the Smith Commission report). (1) With the property rights of the Crown already devolved under the Scotland Act 1998 and with other Crown property rights already administered by the Crown Office in Edinburgh, this should complete the full devolution of the Crown’s property, rights and interests in Scotland. (2)

Unfortunately, the Command Paper (Scotland in the UK: an enduring settlement) published in January, recommends a complex “transfer scheme” whereby the functions of the Crown Estate Commissioners (CEC) will be devolved. It also recommends that the CEC be able to continue to acquire property in Scotland – a proposal that is a recipe for confusion and chaos.

All that is required to implement the Smith Commission proposals is a series of simple legislative amendments to the Scotland Acts of 1998 and 2012 and the Crown Estate Act 1961 – all to the effect that the CEC no longer operate in Scotland, that the Scottish Parliament has full legislative competence over Crown land in Scotland and that statutory responsibility for exercising the function of the CEC is henceforth vested in Scottish Ministers. A discussion and debate can then take place in Scotland as to how to implement a programme of decentralisation – a recommendation endorsed by all the political parties represented on the Smith Commission as reflected in paragraph 33 of its final report.

I have outlined my full views in written evidence if you are interested in further detail. Meanwhile, I look forward to giving evidence to the Committee on Thursday.

NOTES

(1) Papers for the meeting are here and here.

(2) The Crown’s property rights are devolved under Section 3(1) of Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998. The Crown’s property rights that are already administered in Scotland are those under the control of the Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer whose revenues have been paid into the Scottish Consolidated Fund since devolution in 1999.