NFU Scotland has welcomed the eventual award of the contract to conduct the appraisal of how the new “productive capacity” measures to be used to determine farm rents – contained in last year’s Land Reform Act – will work in practice.
The work will be conducted by a consortium consisting of land agents Savills, legal adviser Hamish Lean, and Elgin-based agent Watson Bell.
However, while welcoming the fact that things were moving forward, the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association (STFA) said the fact that many of its members viewed the main contractor as working chiefly for land owners might leave tenant farmers with “understandable concerns”.
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STFA chairman Christopher Nicholson said that while such concerns had been widely expressed in the sector, tenants should be reassured that the safeguards of the tight parameters set for the review together with the broad membership of the consortium and the transparency of the process would lead to a professional and balanced outcome.
“We have also suggested to cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing that a stakeholder group should be appointed to monitor the work of the contractors, guaranteeing transparency and impartiality,” he said.
However, Nicholson added that the political slippage which had delayed the appointment could mean it could now be 2020 before the new procedures were actually used in rental determinations.
The consortium appointed to the job will be charged with assessing the proposals and turning the rent framework laid down in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 into a practical rent review system. Although the basis of the new formula is enshrined in statute, the act requires it to be tested on the ground to make sure it will be achieve its purpose of delivering a fair rent, before the secondary legislation, which will implement the changes, is passed by parliament.
NFUS said that the appointment was a significant step forward in delivering a more transparent system for rents for 1991 Act agricultural tenancies, with union president Andrew McCornick stating that many farmers were awaiting news of how rents would be determined for secure tenancies.
However, he added: “It is vital the new rent-setting mechanism is fit for purpose, and provides landlords and tenants with a fair and transparent system which allows both parties to understand how the rent is determined.”
McCornick also expressed concerns that there was some misunderstanding about when the new rent test would be introduced, admitting that it would be tight to have it in operation in time for 2019 reviews.
“I urge rent discussions between now and then to bear this in mind and for all to adhere to good industry practice during rent reviews,” he concluded.