In a report published today, the Committee raises concerns that these failures of leadership and governance, identified by Audit Scotland, have resulted in a breakdown of trust at the Commission.
The report warns that neither the Scottish Government nor the Crofting Commission acted to address serious concerns first raised in an independent external governance review requested by the Scottish Government in 2016.
The review highlighted concerns which the Auditor General for Scotland says remain today, including differences of opinion and a lack of shared objectives amongst Commissioners.
The Committee is very concerned these issues will reoccur and so seeks reassurance from both organisations that lessons will be learned to prevent this from happening in the future.
Also highlighted in the report is a lack of clarity of roles and responsibilities which led to a breakdown of trust in the last year between the chief executive and the board. The Committee seeks clarity from the Scottish Government on its plans to support rebuilding those relationships.
The Committee is dismayed that performance issues concerning the former Convener of the Commission, identified by the Auditor, had not been detected and acted upon at the time by the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government is asked to confirm that effective oversight and monitoring arrangements are now in place.
Speaking as the report was published, Committee Convener Richard Leonard MSP said:
"It is incredibly disappointing that neither the Scottish Government nor the Crofting Commission took sufficient action to avoid the recurrence of serious concerns first highlighted as far back as 2016.
"The Committee remains gravely concerned that these issues will continue to recur unless, this time, lessons are learned and learned fast.
"We welcome the fact that there is now an action plan in place to turn things around but what we are alsodemanding is a culture change.
"When the new Board is elected next month, it must forge strong relationships with the Scottish Government and steer clear of the day to day running of the Commission – instead focusing on being transparent, open and accountable to the crofting communities they serve."
Through its scrutiny of reports prepared by the Auditor General for Scotland (AGS) and Audit Scotland, the Public Audit Committee examines whether public funds are being spent wisely and holds to account those who are charged with spending tax payer’s money. In all our work, we aim to make a difference to the quality of public services in Scotland.
The 2020/21 audit of the Crofting Commission (the section 22 report), was laid in Parliament on 13 October 2021.
In the section 22 report, the AGS states his reasons for reporting to Parliament— "I have prepared this report to draw the Scottish Parliament's attention to significant weaknesses in the Commission’s leadership and governance arrangements. I also highlight the need to reconsider sponsorship arrangements between the Commission and the Scottish Government and for improvements in the Commission’s overall business planning".
In the report the AGS highlights that the issues that have been identified by the audit means that "…that the leadership and governance of the Crofting Commission (the Commission) is currently falling below the standards expected of a public body in Scotland".
The Committee explored the issues raised by the AGS in his report by taking oral evidence from the following key stakeholders—
- The Auditor General for Scotland on 4 November 20213
- The Crofting Commission on 2 December 2021
- The Scottish Government on 16 December 20215
To inform the Committee’s scrutiny, it also considered the following reports—
- The Auditor’s 2020/21 annual audit report
- The Auditor’s Audit Dimensions and Best Value report to the Commission's Audit and Finance Committee for the year ended March 2021