A tractor and baler bales straw in Scotland© FLPA/REX/Shutterstock

Recommendations have been made by the Scottish tenant farming commissioner to encourage communication between agents, tenants and landlords, and reduce dissatisfaction.

Tenant farming commissioner (TFC) Bob McIntosh made nine recommendations in his recent report to Scottish ministers on the conduct of agents working with landlords and tenants.

The report was a requirement of the 2016 Land Reform (Scotland) Act.

See also: What to do if your landlord decides to sell the farm

It followed an independent survey of 121 landlords and 914 tenants, which suggested landlord-tenant relationships are generally good, with only 6% of tenants and 1% of landlords reporting “fairly or very poor”.

Dr McIntosh said though most agents perform their duties in a professional manner, the actions of a small minority can have a disproportionate effect on the reputation of the agent, their employers or their profession.

“It is important everyone involved take action to ensure there is continuous improvement leading to a reduction in the instances of dissatisfaction,” he added.

The recommendations made by Dr McIntosh, who was appointed in 2016 and tasked with improving the relationship between farm landlords and tenants in Scotland, have been welcomed by land and farming organisations.

Scottish tenant farming commissioner’s recommendations

  1. Landlords and tenants should make more effort to meet regularly on a face-to-face basis.
  2. Agents should adhere to the principles set out in a guidance note – Negotiating and conducting rent reviews – and should apply similar principles regarding transparency and evidence in other dealings on behalf of landlords and tenants.
  3. Firms employing agents should ensure staff development programmes include training in interpersonal skills.
  4. Firms employing agents should use 360deg feedback, client satisfaction surveys and other means to obtain feedback on the way staff are carrying out their functions and should include discussions of behavioural aspects in staff appraisals.
  5. At the conclusion of meetings and discussions the agent should ensure there is agreement on the outcome(s) of the meeting, and on any action points arising, and should follow this up with a written record.
  6. The professional bodies should work with the tenant farming commissioner to produce a guide to professional standards, and associated complaints systems, with particular reference to the agriculture holdings sector.
  7. Firms employing agents should ensure the promotion of, and monitoring of compliance with, professional standards is given equal prominence with other performance measures.
  8. The professional bodies should consider whether their professional standards promote the achievement of an appropriate balance between a duty of care to the client and a duty of care to others including the reputation of the profession.
  9. The TFC and the Land Commission should monitor progress and repeat this exercise in five years’ time.

Sarah-Jane Laing, executive director of Scottish Land & Estates, said the report’s recommendations will enhance existing processes and ensure that dialogue remains productive.

“Dialogue and communication are at the heart of good business relationships and ensuring there is transparency from all parties – including land agents – will help,” she said.

The review does not, however, address the points made by the Law Society, that an agent is not required to act in a fair and reasonable manner or follow the codes of practice providing he stays within the law Christopher Nicholson, Scottish Tenant Farmers Association

Scottish Tenant Farmers Association chairman Christopher Nicholson welcomed the recommendations on adhering to guidance on rent reviews, with particular insistence on openness, transparency and honesty, and the recognition that dissatisfaction stems from the practices of a minority of agents.

“The review does not, however, address the points made by the Law Society, that an agent is not required to act in a fair and reasonable manner or follow the codes of practice providing he stays within the law,” Mr Nicholson said.

“It is a positive report but with the message there is room for improvement. It is now up to the cabinet secretary to take forward the review’s recommendations.”

Fergus Ewing, cabinet secretary for the rural economy and connectivity, has thanked the commissioner for completing this work and said he is heartened that relationships are found to be generally good.

“I recognise some problems do exist and there is no room for complacency,” he said.

“I welcome the recommendations and I look forward to seeing how they are taken forward by the sector.”