BY MURRAY MACLEOD
The amount of money invested in helping crofters build a house on their land has reduced by around 50 per cent in the space of just three years, according to statistics released by the Scottish Government.
The information on the Croft House Grant Scheme is contained in a new 80-page report entitled the “Economic Condition of Crofting” from 2011 to 2014, which is an extrapolation of responses from 750 forms.
The data will reinforce concerns that the scheme is failing to deliver on its stated aim of retaining population in the most isolated communities, particularly in the Western Isles.
There have been persistent calls over recent months for an increase in the grant available — at present, a maximum of £22,000 — as inflation and rising building costs have conspired to devalue its worth, even since its re-launch in 2004.
The report shows that while a total of £1.2 million was handed out in the year 2011/2012, in relation to 70 approved applications, that had reduced to just £625,000 this year for 33 applicants. Admittedly, the report only contains information up to November, so while the final tally for 2014/2015 may eventually be higher it is not expected to go anywhere near matching the figure of three years ago.
The Scottish Government were expected to produce new proposals on the CHGS before the end of the year. However, that has now been postponed till the new year.
A spokesperson explained that with a new minister, Aileen MacLeod, assuming responsibility for crofting there was a need to postpone any formal launch.
While Scottish Government officials provided the background information on the CHGS, the economic assessment on crofting was based on a questionnaire sent to 2,000 individual crofters, of whom 750 responded.
It included questions on, for example, the income generated from a croft and, more controversially, a household’s income from non croft-related activity — fuelling speculation that the Scottish Government may be paving the way for means-testing in key grant schemes, such as the CHGS.
The report maintains that crofting generated £86 million in the last year, “assuming the sample used in the survey was representative of the crofter household population as a whole”.
It said: “Whilst agricultural activities represent the vast majority of crofting related output, businesses who have chosen to diversify receive a significant proportion of their income from other activities. Bed and breakfast facilities were the most common form of diversification and represented around half of the on-croft activity for those businesses running a bed and breakfast.”
The report comes as part of the requirements contained in the Crofting Reform Act 2010 on the need to provide updated information on the industry.
Ms MacLeod said: “This report provides the first ever estimate of the revenue generated by crofting, and underlines just how important crofting is to communities and the economy in Scotland’s remote and fragile areas.
“The picture overall is positive, with the number of active crofts rising, and crofting making a significant contribution to the Scottish economy. I want these positive trends to continue.”