A report into Buccleuch Estate’s handling of its farming tenants has found that the company acted in “good practice” amid accusations of bullying.
Scotland’s Tenant Farming Commissioner (TFC), Bob McIntosh, issued his report into the handling of negotiations with agricultural tenants over their farm leases.
In 2017 Buccleuch Estates, which manages 105,423ha of land, announced plans to turn some of the Eskdale and Liddesdale Estates in the Borders over to forestry.
The company said that it was selling 10 farms to tenants on Limited Partnerships and was in discussions with a further 16 tenants. One tenant, who occupied a farm on a different tenancy – a fixed term SLDT that was about to come to an end and was being taken back in hand by Buccleuch – accused Buccleuch of bullying at a public meeting after the company said it wasn’t going to renew the tenancy.
The report suggested that while the terminations of the tenancies were legal, Buccleuch could have handled it more sensitively.
The TFC reviewed five cases and found that no actions by the estate were in violation of agricultural holdings legislation but that best practice was not always followed.
Bob McIntosh said: “There are some valuable learning points from this exercise which have relevance for all landlords and tenants. The ending of non-secure tenancies has the potential to be a sensitive issue, particularly where past practices by the landlord may have led tenants, and general partners in an limited partnership, to feel that they have more security of tenure than is actually provided.
“When entering into such arrangements, and throughout the duration of the agreement, it is important that landlords and tenants are clear with each other about their expectations and aspirations for the future and that the outcome of these discussions is recorded so that unpleasant surprises for either party are avoided.”
He added: “The primary purpose of the Tenant Farming Commissioner is to promote good relations between landlords and tenants in the agricultural holdings sector. This report highlights the importance of proactive engagement by landowners and land managers with tenants and communities when significant changes are planned.”
John Glen, chief executive of Buccleuch issued a statement. He said that the company would be “reviewing [its] processes in lines with the recommendations” and accepted that it could have been handled more sensitively and regretted the anxiety caused to any tenant. He then said that he was pleased to see the Commissioner find that the acted in compliance with the law in all cases.
Mr Glen said: “In total, seven of the 26 tenants made representations to the Commissioner, with two tenants later withdrawing from the process, leaving five cases for the Commissioner to review. Buccleuch made all files and relevant personnel available to the Commissioner to ensure a fully transparent view of interactions with these tenants.
“The Commissioner gave credit to the estate for giving the tenants six months’ notice of the ending of the SLDT, which was beyond what was legally required. We had attempted and believed we had secured agreement with the tenant that would give them a legal basis to stay on the farm while discussions continued. The tenant is still on the farm and has a guarantee to stay there until April 2019 and we continue to have further discussions with them.
“We are pleased and relieved to see that the Commissioner did not conclude we had bullied tenants during negotiations nor found evidence to substantiate such an allegation.”