Hands off Hawick’s fund, says ex-provost

Zandra Elliot is joined by fellow Hawick councillors as they hand over a petition on the future of the Common Good to Council Convenor Alasdair Hutton
Zandra Elliot is joined by fellow Hawick councillors as they hand over a petition on the future of the Common Good to Council Convenor Alasdair Hutton

HAWICK councillor and former provost Zandra Elliot has delivered a petition bearing almost 1,900 signatures demanding that Scottish Borders Council leaves the town’s common good fund alone.

With the backing of all five of her fellow elected members, Mrs Elliot, chair of Hawick Common Good Working Group, last week handed the document to SBC convener Alasdair Hutton and insisted the town’s assets should not become part of a one-pot strategy.

In the spring SBC launched a consultation on a draft investment framework for the region’s eight common good funds, worth an estimated £7.9million. Excluding land, buildings and other fixed assets, the value of the funds are just over £2million.

The plans, which have been drawn up by Edinburgh law firm Turcan Connell, are designed to “improve long-term capital growth and investment returns”. The strategy also includes around 250 trusts and bequests which are administered by SBC. These have an estimated cash value of £1.36million.

Councillor Elliot, who was instrumental in organising the petition in her hometown, said: “Given the short time available and the fact that the holiday period overlapped, I am absolutely delighted with the response from townsfolk who are, after all, the people to whom the common good fund belongs.”

Despite assurances by SBC leader David Parker at a recent private meeting of Hawick’s community council that the common pot approach would not mark the start of a lack of community control, Mrs Elliot went on: “The current set-up suits Hawick best. If other common goods want to merge their assets because that suits their means, then that is for them to decide, and we would not interfere in that decision. We would, however, expect other funds to reciprocate by allowing Hawick to do what the Hawick councillors think best for our fund and that is to maintain the status quo.

“It is quite clear that the Hawick councillors and the people of Hawick believe that the current arrangements suit Hawick best. I trust the other Borders councillors will recognise this fact and vote accordingly when the issue is discussed.”

A spokesperson for SBC said this week it was likely the full council would make a decision on the investment strategy, based on consultation responses, at its meeting on September 29, adding: “The petition from Hawick has been passed onto Councillor Carolyn Riddell-Carre as chair of the Common Good Investment Group and Councillor Parker as leader of the council.”

Meanwhile, Selkirk’s community council is due to meet on Monday to formalise its response to the consultation – and it looks odds-on that Selkirk will also seek to opt out of the process.

“At our meeting last month, nine members of the public spoke out against the pooling of our capital reserves of just £49,000 into a joint pot,” said vice-chairman Dr Lindsay Neil. “Unlike Hawick, our common good fund is land rich but cash poor and it is quite conceivable money would be required at short notice to maintain our capital assets.

“It is the view of community councillors that it is not in the best interests of the Selkirk Common Good to lock money away in any investment vehicle from which early release would result in cost penalties or loss of interest.”