The Scottish Affairs Committee says the Secretary of State for Scotland should announce the Government's commitment to devolve and decentralise the Crown Estate Commissioner's (CEC) marine and ancient rights and responsibilities in Scotland.
The Crown Estate is a statutory corporation that manages Crown property, rights and interests in Scotland. It acts as the owner of those assets, although they are actually owned and held in trust for Scotland by the UK monarch.
The evidence to the Committee identified major issues over the CEC's management of its responsibilities, particularly in relation to the seabed and the foreshore, including:
- lack of accountability and transparency
- lack of communication and consultation with local communities
- the inappropriateness of the CEC's statutory remit for its responsibilities in the marine environment
- cash leakage from local economies and other adverse impacts arising from the way the CEC operates
- limited benefits in Scotland from the CEC's involvements
The evidence did not identify such problems with the CEC's management of its urban and rural estate.
The Committee concludes that the best way in which to address these fundamental issues is to end the CEC's responsibilities for the administration and revenues of the ancient Crown property, rights and interests in Scotland.
However, simply handing these responsibilities to Holyrood would not address the fundamental problems identified: the Committee says devolution of these powers should be based on the CEC’s further decentralisation to local authority and local community levels to the maximum extent possible.
Devolution to Holyrood should be conditional upon an agreement between the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Scottish Government as to how this will be implemented.
Comments from the Chair
Chair of the Committee Ian Davidson MP said;
"When we first opened a broad inquiry into issues arising from the Scotland Bill we did not anticipate such strength of feeling on the Crown Estate. We received a high volume of strongly critical evidence about the CEC, which led us to launch this full separate inquiry into its work.
Having closed the main Scottish operations division of the CEC in 2002, there is now an accountability vacuum in Scotland, and questions over how 'connected' to Scotland its operations really are. Despite the CEC's claims that a key benefit to Scotland of its operations is that it can call on the wider financial resources of the UK wide Crown Estate to invest in the development of the marine renewable energy sector in Scotland, the data compiled during our inquiry shows that there has actually been a net outflow of capital from Scotland over the last five years. Since devolution the CEC has raised £10.6 million more capital by selling assets in Scotland than it has invested in Scotland over that period. The average proportion of the CEC's annual capital investment that has been invested in Scotland has also been less than Scotland's percentage share of the CEC total value or revenue.
We visited various communities in Orkney, Shetland, Caithness, Argyll and the Western Isles and took evidence from every interested party we could find.
Considering the nature and extent of the problems identified to us, almost exclusively in relation to the marine and coastal assets in Scotland, we have had to conclude that the CEC should no longer be the body responsible in these areas. The point is to conserve these assets and maximise the benefits to the island and coastal communities most closely involved with them. We are convinced the only way this can be done is by devolving as much of the responsibility - and benefit - down to the level of those local communities as possible."