Sunday, 12 July 2015

Extra millions for Borders Common Good funds


The value of the eight Common Good funds in the Borders increased by more than 35 per cent in the space of a year following revaluations of land and buildings and the return of heritable properties previously in the ownership of the local council.

But at the same time the "charitable activities" of the funds - grants to worthy causes - during 2014/15 fell by more than 44 per cent from £154,000 to just £85,000.

The figures can be found in the Unaudited Annual Report and Financial Statements of the funds which are administered by Scottish Borders Council. Governance costs including the charges levied by SBC, and the payment to the external auditor totalled £50,000 last year, down from £56,000 in 2013/14.

Between them the funds for the former burghs of Duns, Galashiels, Hawick, Jedburgh, Kelso, Peebles, Lauder and Selkirk are now worth £13.392 million compared to £9.742 million before assets were revalued or transferred. The revaluations alone added £3.497 million to the funds, boosting so called tangible fixed assets (land and buildings at net book value) from £7.092 million to £10.622 million.

The main beneficiaries from the revaluing exercise are Hawick (up from £2.532 million to £3.675 million) and Selkirk (£2.104 million to £3.312 million. In addition, there were significant increases for Lauder (£691,000 to £1.028 million) and Peebles (£678,000 to £914,000).

There have been complaints aired throughout Scotland concerning the alleged "disappearance" of Common Good property, originally bequeathed to former burghs and royal burghs by Scottish monarchs many centuries ago. Other gifts from generous benefactors are also said to have wrongly fallen into local government hands during relatively recent reorganisations of council structures.

A number of local authorities, among them SBC, have - to their credit - ordered investigations in a bid to establish the true ownership of land and buildings currently part of council portfolios.

As a result of inquiries into potential Galashiels Common Good assets a number of items - Bank Street Gardens, Old Gala House, Ladhope Golf Course and other smaller parcels of land and property with a total value of £313,000 have recently been transferred into the burgh fund.

Further research could see Common Good funds across Scotland reclaiming possession of additional heritable property. But a considerable number of former Scottish burghs - examples in the Borders are Coldstream, Eyemouth, Melrose and Innerleithen - have no Common Good assets at all.

Some critics claim that cannot be right, and detailed investigations into ancient deeds and charters, and long forgotten town council minutes could uncover a treasure house of "skeletons in the wrong cupboard".

The accounts for the Borders funds do not specify reasons for the marked fall in financial help for organisations within the towns. The largest 'givers' were Jedburgh (£34,000), Peebles (£21,000), Selkirk (£16,000) and Hawick (£12,000). The funds in Duns and Galashiels did not make any donations.

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