Landlines: One of main problems with tenancy system is ‘unfair’ tax

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As we count down to referendum day on Scottish independence – one week today – in a blizzard of opinion polls with most decision making in farming, as in many other businesses, on hold until we know the outcome, an opinion poll of another kind caught my eye.

It was actually conducted some time ago by Ipsos MORI on behalf of a farm tenancy review group, but I was reminded of it by the tireless Professor Donald MacRae in his most recent Bank of Scotland farming bulletin.

The survey found about 80% of landlords were very or fairly satisfied with their current tenants and that 65% of tenants were similarly satisfied with their current landlords. As the survey was completed by more than 3,000 tenant farmers and more than 1,100 farming landlords it can be accepted as representative. The significance of it, for me, is that that satisfaction rate with the status quo is difficult to relate to the acrimony and bitterness expressed in the past year or so by tenants’ spokesmen after a number of controversial Land Court decisions on tenancy rights and rents.

I guess that reflects the fact that when we’re reasonably happy with our affairs we don’t say much about it. When we’re unhappy – and 15% of tenants said they were very or fairly dissatisfied with their landlord – we say so. Analysing the results, Professor MacRae notes that the 80% and 65% general satisfaction level applies to most of the other questions relating to tenancies, with both sides agreeing on main problems facing the tenancy system, including – not a surprise to anyone who attends NFU meetings or talks to landowners – an allegedly unfair tax system. Hmm. I think wage and salary earners having tax deducted at source might have views on that.

But there was a significant difference between the 58% of landlords who thought that farmers can make an adequate living and the 43% of farmers who thought that they could. That, as Professor MacRae rightly concludes, could have something to do with ambitious rent demands by landowners and the court cases and the acrimony. Where levels of agreement on both sides reached 80% and more was that uncertainty about future legislation on farm tenancies was detrimental to farming and that tenants and landowners should have more freedom to develop individual business contracts. An independent Scottish government – if the vote goes that way next week – might have views on that.

Having noted when driving through a wonderful start to harvest along the Moray coast at the beginning of August, I was sorry to hear that part of the country, and much of north-east Scotland, is still struggling to clear fields because they have had much more rain than us. So sorry for claiming last week that harvest was done and dusted in the Borders, although thanks to a few days of superb September weather it probably is now – I hope.