Saturday, 23 December 2017

Calls for LOCAL control of Common Good funds

EWAN LAMB continues our coverage of a burning Borders issue

A group of "campaigners" from the Scottish Borders have urged Scotland's Parliamentarians to place the administration and management of Common Good funds in the hands of the townsfolk who are supposed to benefit from the assets and end the current regime of 'remote control' by large local authorities.

The Scottish Parliament's Local Government and Communities Committee is looking at the current legislation surrounding the ancient funds to see whether it requires tightening up or strengthening. And an invitation calling for written submissions must have left the committee members in no doubt that changes are needed as a matter of urgency.

Not Just Sheep & Rugby has already reported on contributions from Hawick Callants Club, and from Derick Tait, a former chairman of Future Hawick.

That organisation has lodged its own submission which is as hard-hitting as the rest.

Future Hawick has told the committee:"The definition of what is and what is not common good is all too often open to misrepresentation and misinterpretation.  Greater clarity is required and the rules need to be obeyed as common good property needs to be properly administered for the community it serves.

"The recent compilation of assets lists has clearly demonstrated a desertion of duty in this respect by local authorities, many of whom tend to regard common goods as a nuisance to their administration.  While attempts to address this issue have been made as a result of Scottish Government initiatives, the delays which have occurred in compilation are a sign of lack of proper record keeping.  All too often, administration of common good funds has been treated by local authorities as a right rather than an obligation, and to suit the ends of the local authority rather than the community.

"The administration of common goods has become remote from the communities they are supposed to serve.Often, councillors who have no connection with a particular common good are responsible for its administration and have no knowledge of community requirements.  In the Scottish Borders, all councillors are de facto trustees of all common goods and in effect control their administration. 

"While local sub-committees are appointed for each common good, final decisions rest with the full council.  This is not a sustainable situation, and there is a need for greater devolution of management to the communities the common goods serve.  More effective and dedicated management would be attained through the establishment of local committees comprising members of community councils and representatives of local civic and cultural organisations, all with full voting rights.  At present the situation where community councillors can sit and speak, but not vote, on common good committees is anathema to the democratic process."

Former Hawick councillor Andrew Farquhar is equally forthright in his submission.

He writes:"It is unfortunate that the legislation at that time did not allow for some form of local democratic administration to be put in place within the Burghs that owned them. Recent consultation has confirmed that some authorities view Common Goods as an inefficient administrative burden and are seen as diverting resources from the work done by them in the expanding role of delivering local services in partnership with communities.

"Managing Common Good assets is understandably low in the list of council priorities and has not been without controversy. The importance can be measured in local terms however because in Hawick for 2013/14 the net assets are shown to be £3.061 million with a deficit for the year of £115,000. Common Good assets have not fared well under Council stewardship due to councils having to do more with less. Administering the Common Good is low down in their list of priorities. E.g. Progress made with registers of assets!"

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