A retired GP from Selkirk is in the vanguard of a campaign to bring control of common good funds across Scotland closer to the people.
Dr Lindsay Neil, a member of Selkirk Regeneration Company and a former community council chairman, was at the Scottish Parliament last week encouraging MSPs to support new legislation which, he hopes, will wrest power from local authorities like Scottish Borders Council.
Since SBC’s inception in 1996, decisions relating to the use of funds of Selkirk, Lauder, Galashiels, Jedburgh, Hawick, Kelso, Peebles and Duns – with combined net assets of nearly £10million – has rested with local working groups, comprising only SBC ward councillors.
Last year, it was agreed that one community representative should sit on these groups which meet in Newtown. Although these meetings are open, members of the public are not allowed to participate.
Dr Neil believes there should be at least as many community representatives on these bodies as councillors, and that they should have the power to veto decisions if they feel they are not in the best interests of that community.
On Wednesday, Dr Neil gave evidence at Holyrood to the cross-party Local Government and Regeneration Committee, which is refining the content of a Community Empowerment Bill.
He told MSPs: “The section of the bill dealing with common good funds will play a major part in restoring their local status and community relevance.
“I hope it will address the legal shortcomings and sloppiness of previous legislation, and improve hitherto unsatisfactory outcomes in the administration of these funds by local authorities.”
Dr Neil said he wanted the bill to clarify that councils do not “own” the common good funds they administer, stating: “Local authorities may own the title to common good funds, but it is the burgh inhabitants who are the beneficial owners.”