Towns give short change to common pot proposals

HAWICK and Selkirk are set to opt out of controversial plans to pool cash from the region’s eight common good funds and about 250 trusts into a single investment strategy.

More than 80 people in Hawick’s lesser town hall gave an overwhelming thumbs down to the proposal which Scottish Borders Council hopes will maximise cash returns for the benefit of towns and village.

Selkirk Community Council was also sceptical about the merits of an investment policy which SBC has put out to public consultation. That has now been extended for six weeks from the orginal deadline, June 3.

The paucity of cash returns on the numerous pockets of cash covered by common good funds and trusts prompted SBC last year to appoint a working group and engage a firm of lawyers to formulate a single investment strategy.

The group is chaired by Councillor Carolyn Riddell-Carre (Con, Selkirshire) who is also chair of the Selkirk common good working group. The 34 elected members of SBC are trustees of all the common good funds.

In December, Mrs Riddell-Carre expressed concern at the “derisory return” that Selkirk received for its £49,000 investment in SBC’s loan fund.

Selkirk’s community council has agreed that, given the timescale for consultations, it would delegate its response to vice-chairman Dr Lindsay Neil.

He told us: “There is a lot to consider in the document which is very complicated indeed, but my gut feeling is that this is not for Selkirk.

“We recently learned that SBC has conceded various assets, including the Toll Banking and Rosebank Quarry, belong to our common good.

“But they have not conceded more valuable assets, such as the library, municipal buildings and industrial units which might produce a valuable income for the common good.

“It is therefore incomprehensible how SBC can spend time and our money on a capital investment strategy when, in Selkirk, they don’t even know, understand or agree what the common good consists of.”

Selkirk community council heard the strategy would involve the cash reserves of the eight common good funds, currently estimated at just over £2million, and hundreds of trust funds worth £1.36million, both excluding land and buildings. It would create a more diverse portfolio of investments.

Dr Neil commented: “We are asset rich and cash poor in Selkirk and cannot risk tying up what little liquid reserves we have to boost the returns of other towns.”

In Hawick, Councillor Zandra Elliot summed up the views of the public meeting: “Hawick has farms and property worth over £3million, but has only £88,000 in a Roxburgh fund with Kelso and Jedburgh and £55,000 invested with SBC.

“These are the sums which SBC wants to take out of our control, but that is simply not on. We need to have access to our liquid reserves to ensure our fixed assets are well maintained.

“I reluctantly joined the ad hoc working group in order to protect Hawick’s interests and the public meeting has confirmed what I already knew: that Hawick’s common good money should not be part of a strategy from which other towns will benefit.”

At the Hawick meeting, the public was urged to complete the consultation document, available on SBC’s website.