BY MICHAEL RUSSELL
Moves to devolve control over Crown Estate assets in Scotland to local communities were described as “absolutely tremendous” by a campaigner who has spent 30 years pushing for that to happen.
Former Lib Dem Highland councillor Dr Michael Foxley said he “raised a glass” this week, along with former Labour MSP Peter Peacock, to the proposals outlined by the Smith Commission, which was set up after September’s referendum to examine further powers for Scotland. He also paid tribute to the Free Press for starting the campaign back in the 1970s.
Dr Foxley — now chair of the UHI’s further education regional board — said: “We’ve had a wee army working away at this for a very long time and it’s great to see that a crack has finally been opened up— it’s absolutely tremendous.
“What we need to do now is start discussing decentralising control of this right down to harbour authorities and community-owned estates. In the past when there were discussions between certain businesses and the Crown Estate all we ever heard about were the conclusions. Local management of these assets is the critical thing and we need a body set up that can have representatives in these meetings from the outset.
“It’s all about maximising benefits for communities, whether in terms of local businesses, training or jobs. My big fear has always been that when the big offshore wind projects come along all the kit comes in from Germany, they do all the installation and maintenance, and it’s only when they come ashore for a pint do we see any benefit. We need to be able to say to these guys, use Scrabster or Kishorn or Arnish, and we need funding within UHI to train our own people up.”
This year the Crown Estates total revenues from its Scottish assets were £13.9 million, £3.3 million of which came from aquaculture. Its rural and coastal assets were valued at £177 million.
The Smith Commission’s report — which still has to be approved by the UK Parliament — stipulates that “management of those [Crown Estate] assets will be further devolved to local authority areas such as Orkney, Shetland, Na h-Eilean Siar or other areas who seek such responsibilities”.
Councillor Angus Campbell, leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said: “The comhairle has long argued that Crown Estate revenues should be retained in Scotland and that local communities should be the beneficiaries of income derived from sea-bed and foreshore developments. Indeed, this was a key aim of the ‘Our Islands, Our Future’ campaign and was recognised by the Scottish Government in the Prospectus, ‘Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities’ which set out an agreed way forward for island authorities and the Scottish Government.
“The commission’s recommendations are a fundamental shift in the democratic structure of modern Scotland and recognise the wish for the further transfer of powers to local levels. This is a particularly welcome recommendation and I look forward to discussing the format and structures that will make this a reality. I would urge both the Scottish and UK governments to enter into discussions immediately to implement this recommendation and the comhairle will be seeking a meeting with both governments at an early stage to take forward those discussions”
The Scottish Government said that meetings had already taken place between islands minister Derek Mackay and representatives of the island authorities. He will be re-convening the Islands Area Ministerial Working Group to discuss how to implement the Smith recommendations.
A spokesman added: “The Scottish Government welcomes the long-overdue recommendations of the Smith Commission to devolve responsibility for the management and revenues of the Crown Estate assets including the seabed out to 200 nautical miles. As we made clear in ‘Empowering Scotland’s Islands’ we want to see communities benefit from 100 per cent of the revenues of the seabed and be actively involved in managing the Crown Estate assets.”
Editorial, page 15