Council to maximise common good returns as info requests take toll

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FREEDOM of information requests regarding Selkirk’s Common Good assets could, if unchecked, further deplete a bank balance which currently stands at £49,000.

And at the December meeting of Scottish Borders Council, Selkirkshire’s Kenneth Gunn apologised to his colleagues for the cost the local authority had already incurred in dealing with FoI queries relating to the fund, generally acknowledged as being asset rich but cash poor.

Councillors heard that, in the current financial year, SBC, whose 34-elected members are trustees of the region’s eight common good funds, exacted so-called recharges of around £3,500 from the Selkirk pot.

But the actual costs incurred by the council, for legal, financial and estate services, was £15,000. That is the amount which will be charged next year, although the council agreed last week to cover the cost with a grant, amounting to more than £50,000 across the eight funds.

But in future years any additional costs, including the processing of FoI requests, will be charged to the relevant common good funds.

Mr Gunn said: “It has been said that dealing with flood of FoI requests about Selkirk Common Good is incessant and I can only apologise ... like Tony Blair I have gone cool on the whole premise of freedom of information, especially when it is is being used to work against the best interests of Selkirk.”

Councillor Carolyn Riddell-Carre, chairman of Selkirk’s Common Good Working Group, is already on record as criticising the number of Freedom of Information requests which have emanated from the town and opposing proposals, from community council vice-chairman Dr Lindsay Neil, for membership of the working group to be extended beyond the three Selkirkshire members on Scottish Borders Council.

And she again defended the status quo, claiming she, Mr Gunn and their fellow-Selkirkshire councillor Vicky Davidson, who sat on the Selkirk working group, had been elected at polls with a 57 per cent turnout, while the turnout at community council elections had been just five per cent.

Mrs Riddell-Carre added: “There are wild men and women in our community whose hobbies we can no longer afford to indulge.”

Earlier, the council agreed that an investment strategy was required for all the region’s common good funds which are worth just over £2million, with Hawick, Jedburgh, Lauder, Peebles and Selkirk all having assets and investments in excess of £200,000.

Mrs Riddell-Carre said the current return on the £49,000 cash balance in Selkirk was derisory and she backed the appointment of an external adviser to develop an investment strategy to generate maximum income for all the funds.

As chairman of the Selkirk group, she will be a member of a new working group, charged to oversee the strategy which will be presented to councillors by May 31.