More local control needed for the common good

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COUNCILLORS need to take a long-term view when dealing with common good funds and, to that end, they should be overseen by local people, writes Mark Entwistle.

That call, from the Borders Party, came this week after the group’s motion to improve transparency in accounting for such funds was passed by Scottish Borders Council.

Party leader, Nicholas Watson (Leaderdale and Melrose) saw his motion calling for official reports on common good funds to contain real values using the Retail Price Index – to give a clearer picture of any changes in fund values – passed unopposed.

He commented: “Too often the instinct of councillors is to spend money if it’s available. The council needs to remember that many of these funds have been around for centuries, and we have a duty to hand them on in good shape to future generations.”

Common good funds, alongside other philanthropic trusts, were established over the years to provide financial help to towns and villages towards such things as parks, libraries, support for the needy and grants for community groups.

Mr Watson added: “A proper investment strategy – begun by SBC last year – is a good step, as most of these funds have been earning next to nothing.

“However, we also need a clear view of the changing value of these funds year on year, and to be prepared to restore fund values when returns are good, instead of just spending.”

The Borders Party wants to see more local control of common good and trust funds and is proposing the establishment of local boards.

Mr Watson went on: “We believe that the common good funds should be controlled locally in the local interest.

“We would establish new advisory boards, made up of local people to exercise oversight of the funds to ensure proper accountability and sustainability in the long term. Scottish Borders Council would undertake to act under guidance from these bodies.”

The party’s proposal is part of its plans which it claims would make council services more accountable to local communities.

“Local oversight will make services better meet the needs of local people and make them more efficient,” Mr Watson concluded.

His fellow party councillor Sandy Aitchison (Galashiels and District) added: “We’d like to see respected local figures being invited to help oversee these trusts so that they’re properly looked after.

“Councillors come and go but an advisory board would bring continuity and a long term overview.

“Our motion was a step in the right direction, but we need to go further.”