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September 24, 2008

Council accused of hiding truth behind Common Good

The findings of a major investigation into common good funds, including Selkirk’s £1million assets, are being kept secret. Scottish Borders Council have completed a study into how the Common Good Funds in the Scottish Borders have been managed but have decided that the findings should not be debated in public

Selkirk Advertiser

THE findings of a major investigation into common good funds, including Selkirk’s £1million assets, are being kept secret.
And Dr Lindsay Neil, vice-chairman of the community council, believes the decision to discuss the findings of Scottish Borders Council’s scrutiny panel in private last week is “totally reprehensible”.

Newtown’s legal eagles ruled the report contains commercially confidential information, including details of what individuals pay for renting common good assets, so could not be debated in public when it came before SBC’s executive.

Dr Neil blasted: “This is a smokescreen. Common goods are owned by all the people in those towns which have them. The 34 members of SBC are merely trustees and their performance up to now has been far from satisfactory.

“I welcomed the probe, but for the results to be kept under wraps merely confirms my suspicions that SBC is not really interested in the views of the public it purports to serve.”

Some details of the report, compiled over six months, emerged after Councillor David Paterson of Hawick demanded a call-in of the executive’s clandestine decisions.He was angry three recommendations had not been accepted.

The watchdog wanted grants in the gift of each Common Good Working Group (comprising SBC elected members whose wards cover the relevant towns) restricted to the current £10,000. The executive felt this should be £20,000.

Scrutiny did not believe “community interest members”, such as community councillors, should be involved in decision-making. The executive disagreed, ordering leader David Parker to ask Scottish Ministers to amend legislation to allow this to happen.

Scrutiny also demanded each of the Borders eight common good funds should receive a grant to cover the cost of administration levied by the bean counters at Newtown. Again, the executive demurred, claiming this would be unfair to towns without common goods.

Mr Paterson’s request was granted and a special meeting of scrutiny will take place before the full council has the final say on September 25, probably in private.

Dr Neil told The Wee Paper: “I strongly believe community councils and perhaps other local organisations should be represented on the working groups.

“I told the scrutiny team this on behalf of Selkirk Community Council in May, but it seems to have been ignored.”

From next year, councils will be legally required to publish a register of Common Good assets: an ancient system of safeguarding property and land administered by the former burghs on behalf, and for the benefit, of local people.