Rent tribunal war of words continues unabated

The Scottish Land Court announced its decision on a long-running rental determination late last week, but comments made yesterday on the ruling sparked a row over why the process had been so protracted.
High prices for finished beef cattle last year are unlikely to be repeated in the near future. Picture: Robert PerryHigh prices for finished beef cattle last year are unlikely to be repeated in the near future. Picture: Robert Perry
High prices for finished beef cattle last year are unlikely to be repeated in the near future. Picture: Robert Perry

Announcing its findings in the case over the rental value of Roxburgh Mains, part of the Roxburghe Estates, the court said that it shared “the anxiety of the industry for quicker, simpler and cheaper resolution of rent cases in the future”.

In a postscript to its ruling, it recognised that the case had been only the second to be heard under the current legislation but stated: “If greater speed, simplicity and economy are going to be achieved in the future – and we believe they can be – close attention will have to be paid to the guidance which now exists as to what evidence is relevant and what is not.”

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In the court’s published decision on the case, which sought to determine the rental due from Whitsunday 2009, it stated that landlords originally lodged a proposed a rent of £38,300 but their final submission was that the rent should be fixed at £67,876 (£106.96 per acre (pa)), whereas the tenant proposed £30,593 (£48.21pa). The previous rent, which was set in 1996 was £27,500 (£43.34/acre).

Following the hearings, the court determined the rental at £48,982 per annum, or £77.19pa over the 634.57 acres.

However the ruling became the subject of a spat after the Roddy Jackson, factor of the Roxburghe Estates, said that it was “regrettable” that offers to settle made by the estate – some of which he claimed were below the level eventually set – had not been accepted.

But it was his further comments which sparked the row: “A further concern which we have in cases of this type is whether the decision not to settle was influenced by the STFA [Scottish Tenant Farmers Association] insurance scheme for legal costs. This scheme provided cover only in the event that a case ran until conclusion. Such a condition positively discourages out-of-court settlements and makes little sense.”

But both the tenant, John Elliot, and the STFA were quick to deny that such an insurance scheme had played any role in the proceedings. Elliot said that the statement was inaccurate and added he was discussing other areas with his legal team.

The STFA – which said it had no direct involvement in the case – said that the whole rental determination process had demonstrated the need for “radical change” to the legislation governing rent reviews and in particular the use of “comparables” over productive capacity.

“If a tenant such as John Elliot, himself an experienced and respected farm arbiter with experience of conducting rent reviews, can fall foul of the system then there is little hope for the rest of Scotland’s tenants,” said STFA chairman Christopher Nicholson.

Challenges ahead for meat sector

The whole of the red meat sector faces a challenging few years, with production levels, margins and costs all likely to come under the spotlight.

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Commenting after the launch of Quality Meat Scotland’s Red Meat Profile yesterday, the organisation’s chief economist, Stuart Ashworth, admitted there were challenges to be faced, particularly in the beef sector. These included both the recent slump in prices and the likely effects of common agricultural policy reforms.

“However, in the past the beef industry has proved itself not to be prone to knee-jerk reactions when facing up to challenges,” he said, “and although there might be some re-structuring in the longer term, the industry is adept at cleverly responding to market signals.”

He believed there would be a degree of thought going on among beef farmers and a spell of consideration.

Ashworth said that, while he did not exclude price improvements, which might come about due to a tightening domestic supply, he suggested that any swift return to the heady prices for finished cattle achieved last year was likely to meet with some resistance from consumers – and said that producers should also explore their costs.

“Beef producers tend to take the longer perspective – and getting on top of major disease such as fluke would be one area where the industry could make a significant difference to costs,” said Ashworth.