Head of Policy Team's Blog - 4 September 2019

NFU Scotland is fully committed to building a bright future for the tenanted sector writes Head of Policy Team Gemma Cooper.

Three years on from the passing of the Land Reform 2016 Act, previously stormy seas around agricultural tenancies appear to all intents and purposes to be calmer.

The passage of the Act generated a tremendous amount of work for NFUS, amidst often unhelpful rhetoric. As a broad church, there is no doubt that NFUS walked a difficult path on some issues.  Reflecting this, Union time and investment was ploughed in, with incumbent NFUS President Nigel Miller leading the charge.  

Indeed, we have Nigel to thank for the creation of the Tenant Farming Commissioner post and the valuable, accompanying Codes that he has subsequently produced. There is no doubt that Nigel’s brainchild of an ‘independent oversman’ can be held up as one of the most successful components of the Act.

Alongside Nigel, the NFUS Tenants Working Group worked hard as it tracked progress of the legislation. Some of these issues remain outstanding and, it is a frustration that progress has been slow and that items around rent review and assignation are not yet complete.

Despite the changes, the tenanted sector in Scotland is contracting. The Act has not been successful in achieving its aim of a healthier and more vibrant tenanted sector.

Opportunities for tenanted land are scarce, locking out younger businesses and preventing established ones from expanding. Lease terms are increasingly short, which is not ideal from a business planning perspective or animal husbandry. It is looking increasingly unlikely that the remaining provisions yet to be enacted will provide the elusive ‘silver bullet’ that the industry needs.

To make progress, industry must look to the future and think laterally.

NFUS began this process last year with the launch of our Joint Venture Hub. I am pleased to report that, to date, we have over 60 registrations.  There is demand for opportunity, a willingness to negotiate individual terms within appropriate frameworks and an appetite for discussion around different types of agreements to suit individual needs. This is truly reflective of what the modern let sector should be aspiring to.

Engagement with the Tenant Farming Forum (TFF) and now the Tenant Farming Advisory Forum has shown that there can be a huge level of consensus between tenants, landlords and professional advisors.  The sector needs to build on this and look at how, in the future, a ladder of progression for tenants is accessible to all.

To ensure the tenanted sector is serviced in the best possible way and that opportunities for all are created, NFUS has reviewed the operation of its Tenants Working Group, as part of a wider review of all committees and working groups to ensure they are fit for purpose.  

The achievements of the working group can be expanded.  We need to ensure we have the right structure in place to put forward views on the policy developments needed for all types of agricultural business arrangements concerned with the use of land.

The evolution of the NFUS Tenants Working Group will ensure that the group has people representing all types of tenancy arrangements, including secure 1991 Act tenants, shorter term tenancies, contract farmers and modern limited duration tenancies.  These interests will be underpinned by a team of specialists to advise on relevant considerations such as legal frameworks and the practical function of a range of agreements. And landowners and owner occupiers will also be on the group.  We need both the demand and the supply side of land represented.

NFUS will use this range of expertise and interests to carry out work on 1991 Act tenancies, modern letting vehicles, taxation of tenancies and frameworks for alternative agreements.

The Union is confident that this will provide members with the opportunity to feed in views, regardless of what type of interest they have. It will provide increased transparency and empathy and ensure that the increasingly broad spectrum of views have a voice in key discussions.   

Perhaps, in another three years’ time, we will have truly achieved our aim of a healthy and vibrant tenanted sector.

Author: Gemma Cooper

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About The Author

Gemma Cooper

Gemma Cooper is a graduate of Harper Adams and started her career in practical land and estate management in Perthshire and Angus. She developed her career as an agricultural and rural business consultant with a specialism in farm diversification. Gemma joined NFUS in 2012 as Legal and Technical Policy Manager and was later promoted to Head of Policy Team. She has extensive experience of a broad range of rural policy issues relating to land reform, land use, access and rural law and her role includes influencing at a Scottish and UK level on behalf of NFUS members. Gemma combines advocacy work with management and development of the NFUS team of policy professionals.

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