Questions don’t do much good

How long must we listen to the same arguments over and over again coming from a few individuals in Selkirk masquerading as a legitimate watchdog on our Common Good?

Earlier this month at the Selkirk Community Council meeting a member of that body – vice-chairman Lindsay Neil – was again raising doubts about the ability of elected councillors and professional legal employees of Scottish Borders Council (SBC) to run anything which might not fit his own narrow parameters.

Even through massive changes in local government since the 1970s, the people on the ground have run the Common Good system to the best of their ability. Yes, there have been one or two mistakes, but I have yet to meet the perfect man or woman who never makes an error.

What has been so different in recent years is the mistaken assumption by Dr Neil and a few friends, who are mainly unelected to anything, that they know better than the experts and learned counsel.

That is why the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act (FoI) seemed like manna from heaven and why certain people still think that because it contains the word “freedom”, it must somehow be free of any charge. That, of course, is nonsense – free lunches went out the window a long time ago.

My former colleague as a councillor for Selkirkshire, Carolyn Riddell-Carre, warned that there was a cost and, indeed, I also warned of the costs, not to those asking the questions, but to the whole of Selkirk and the Souters’ Common Good Fund.

If you take a well-paid lawyer or accountant off his ordinary work and second him to something else, then that other body has to pay for the use of the asset that is the person.

If a question is asked under the FoI category then the answer has to be given within very tight timescales. That is why personnel have to be shifted around.

And because the amount of questions about Common Good was rising steadily – in Selkirk it was described as “horrendous” by an official – SBC took the proper step of employing a specialist lawyer to read every title and act upon it.

So, no, the five-fold increase in charges to the Common Good was not all directly involved by relentless questions under FoI, but it did have a bearing and what are we left with?

Any extra assets? I think not. Only a few extra liabilities, including a corrugated iron green shed halfway down The Green which I have searched the history books for and still cannot find the King of Scots who gave this fine building to Selkirk, and which also saw the Old Forest Inn where Burns wrote his Epistle to Willie Creech demolished to make way for it.

Kenneth Gunn