Crown Estate Commissioners hang on like limpets to Scottish rights

The Crown Estate Commission has been the subject of profound criticism by the Westminster parliament’s Scottish Affairs Committee, who found it to be lacking in ‘accountability and transparency’.  On the basis of the facts they could have done little else.

The committee also suggested that the Commission’s authorities should be devolved to the local communities where the public rights and assets they manage are based.

Although the Commissioners already had the reassurance that the UK government was not minded to take this route, they moved quickly to seize the initiative, make minor concessions presented as substantial and retain control of the management of their affairs.

They are making much of the fact that they are giving up control over what are described as ‘strips of land’ in Edinburgh’s West Princes Street Gardens.

Alongside this, their relinquishing of what are called ‘some fishing rights’ turn out to amount to no more than the Scottish rights to fish for wild oysters and mussels – hardly an enforeceable earner.

They are also – belatedly – making a gesture towards embracing the tartan.

Upon devolution, the two anachronistic bodies managing Scottish rights and assets – the Forestry Commission and the Crown Estate Commission took very different courses of action.

The Forestry Commission voluntarily became a Scottish Government agency, Forestry Commission Scotland and has been markedly go-ahead in modernising attitudes to forests and the role they play in community life and leisure. They have presided over the sale of parcels of forest to support community sustainability.

The Crown Estate Commission, however, decamped to London in short order, closing its Scottish office in Edinburgh and obliterating the accounting distinction between the Scottish rights and performances it manages and the rights and assets it manages elsewhere in the UK.

It was no longer possible to see the detail of the annual capital and revenue generation from these Scottish resources. Some changes were consequently made to this convenient merging of accounts.

The Scottish rights and assets – worth a tartan kiss or two – are now to be managed exclusively from Scotland, from an Edinburgh HQ, with the Scottish Commissioner, Gareth Baird, now given a formal role as Chair of a new Board and take responsibility for all Scottish operations.

He will have two new senior managers in support, also to be Edinburgh based.

Unsurprisingly, the language being used around these new arrangements is all about their determination to support inward investment for Scotland, job creation for Scotland…. The only surprise is that this egregious  list of  beneficence supplied to Scotland did not include fish farms for Scotland; offshore wind and marine energy for Scotland; marinas for Scotland; moorings for Scotland etc.  The Crown Estate Commission earns a great deal of revenue from such resources.

It can well afford to toss away a few rights to fishing for oysters and mussels – and it intends itself to determine to whom it transfers these rights.

The UK government – and, it has to be said, the Scottish Government for all the muted mutterings it has made from time to time – is hopelessly in thrall to tradition and will do nothing to displace this unaccountable, opaque and autocratic relic of times well past.

It’s not actually the lost revenue that sticks in the craw, although it does.

It’s the infuriating principle of needless subservience, the source of which no longer even exists. These rights and assets do not belong to the Monarch. The Commissioners have been reminded by an unusually spirited Public Accounts Select Committee that they are ‘public servants, managing a public asset, in the public interest’.

The paralysing of progress in the failure to modernise a body that simply cannot belong in any thinking contemporary structure of governance is unacceptable.

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12 Responses to Crown Estate Commissioners hang on like limpets to Scottish rights

  1. Good to see that you are still pursuing and publishing on the Crown Estate. But one variation from the article. The Crown Estate’s Annual Report and Accounts do provide material for the whole UK under each of its main budget areas. Its Scottish Report provides data about Scottish income and expenditure under the same budget headings, so it is possible to analyse its performance in Scotland on its own and against the position for the UK as a whole. A year ago I created an Excel table to complete a Scottish/UK analysis and comparison for 2001 and 2011, and will update that with the 2012 figures – happy to provide that to anyone interested in the statistics if they e-mail me on:;

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    • Thank you Andrew. We understood that they had produced separate accounts for Scotland but, in the early days after their decampment, they merged the accounts – although they did later move to disaggregate them in the way you describe.

      Your Excel table sounds a very valuable exercise. When you’ve added the 2012 figures, if you would like to email the table to me ( we could put it in pdf format and add it as an downloadable attachment to this article under your name – along with an explanatory paragraph from you. This wold make it universally available.

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  2. Pingback: Argyll News: Community Land Scotland see case for change to Crown Estate Commission ‘undiminished’ | For Argyll

  3. While supporting the thinking that monies collected by the Crown Estate in Scotland should remain in Scotland and that administration of Scottish waters should be based in Scotland, I have concerns about what sort of body will replace the CEC should its powers be taken over.

    As a seafarer and mooring holder, I dread to think what would happen if the likes of Argyll and Bute Council got hold of the rights to collect the rent. A system of sea bed administration which works well, however unfairly from a Scottish perspective, will be demolished at a stroke to be replaced by inept, short term political greed – seeing every mooring as a cash cow. Chaos and anarchy would ensue as rents would be unpaid, moorings laid anywhere without control and there would be a complete lack of policing. The cash cow would quickly become a burden to the council tax payer.

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    • Fair comment. There is genuine expertise of long standing in those who work for the Crown Estate Commission. We hear favourable remarks on this on a regular basis.

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    • It would be interesting to know what happens in places like Norway or the Aland islands, where the pattern of activity in coastal waters must be similar to that in Argyll.

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    • Not sure if this is usefull to the discusion or not but in Dundee control of the shore was handed to the local council who then upped the rent local sailing clubs were paying for their slipways by around 400%.

      Tony Gill raises a very good point and I dread to think what would happen if the councils were given control of the seabed as well.

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  4. Pingback: Argyll News: Correctionlon on ‘reforms’ to Crown Estate Commission Scottish operation | For Argyll

  5. I do think it matters if responsible jounalists get their facts right when writing critical articles of this nature. The Crown Estate Office in Edinburgh has never been closed. It merely moved premises from Charlotte Square to Bells Brae in 2003. True some functions -control of the urban estate-moved to London but that is an entirely different matter.

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    • We doubt if anyone would see a departure from Charlotte Square as anything other than a corporate diminution – which was allied to a change in accounting practice,removing the previous separate accounting for the Scottish operation. Together these sketch an indicative story that needs to be told.
      We take it that you are not suggesting that the Bells Brae Crown Estate Commission establishment remained identical in number and level in the aftermath of the move from Charlotte Square? You might care to detail both.

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  6. I’m looking forward to a continuation of the story. I must admit when I formulated a reply to the Crown estate Consultation on behalf of the Scottish Islands Federation, which is available in full as a book and as far as I know online, the conclusion I drew is that although the Crown estate where perhaps not fully transparent, the formation of an independent Scottish advisory board to act according to Existing Scottish law on behalf of Scottish people. I mean people who are perhaps retired but who have a great knowledge of the various subjects to be considered, particularly maritime affairs, but who are independent of businesses. In September the Scottish Islands Federation (SIF) are hosting the AGM of the European Small Islands Network (ESIN) on Mull so we could gather together information on how it’s done elsewhere. The independent islands seem to be more empowered. Unfortunately local authorities have often disempowered local coastal inhabitants.

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  7. Your article stated quite clearly that the Crown Estate had shut its Edinburgh Office. Why can’t you admit you were wrong instead of trying to muddy the waters? Who cares where their office is so long as they have one and as for staff numbers they like many other organisations have flucuated through the years.
    You make some perfectly reasonable points in your article and then spoil it with a lack of balance.Why not mention some positive points? Without the Crown Estate fish farming would never have seen the light of day in Scotland and many fragile West Coast communities would have died along with the deep sea fishing industry. Secondly the tenanted farms on the Crowns’s rural holdings are the best equipped anywhere in Scotland as any visitor to Glenlivet or Fochabers will tell you.But you don’t want your readers to know that do you?

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