A CLOSE friend of former town clerk George Knox, who left £420,000 in his will to benefit the elderly of his native Galashiels, has rubbished a proposal from Scottish Borders Council to use the bequest to create a healthy living centre for senior citizens in the town.
And Drew Tulley said he would use the consultation period to urge councillors to ditch the healthy living centre proposal and, instead, administer the funds through the Galashiels Local Relief Fund (GLRF).
“This is the last thing George would have wanted and I can see no possible justification for it,” said the erstwhile SBC leader who was an executor of Mr Knox’s estate.
The pair first met in the mid-1960s when Mr Tulley was elected to serve on Galashiels Town Council and Mr Knox was deputy town clerk. Mr Tulley went on to become Dean of Guild and, after regionalisation in 1975, became chairman of Ettrick and Lauderdale District Council. He was the first convener of Scottish Borders Council in 1996.
After his appointment as town clerk of Galashiels in 1969, Mr Knox became the first director of administration with the district authority. In retirement he continued in public service, not least as secretary of the GLRF.
Mr Knox died aged 93 in May last year, leaving £419,942 to SBC or its successors “for the benefit of older people in the town through the GLRF or otherwise at the discretion of the council”.
In December, councillors agreed that a proposal, drawn up by their social work department, to use around half the bequest to convert a wing at the Waverley Care Home in Elm Row, which no longer meets Care Commiission standards, into a healthy living centre should go out to public consultation. Under the proposal, the balance of the bequest would support running costs until the facility became self-supporting and sustainable.
A statement from the council on Friday revealed that a three-month consultation period had begun on February 1 and would end on April 30.
The release focuses at length on the option of the healthy living centre “that all older people in the Galashiels area can access and use.” Facilities being considering include a small thermal health spa, gym, cafe area and changing facilities, as well as an art and crafts room. The space outside would be developed to offer opportunities for gardening.
The statement says the centre, which would be run by a “provider” on behalf of SBC, would ensure the increasing number of older people in Galashiels remained healthy and active. The venture even carries the commendation of Councillor Willie Archibald (West Linton), who is SBC’s Older People’s Champion. “This is a valuable opportunity to provide a unique service for all older people in the Galashiels area that the council would not otherwise be able to provide,” said Mr Archibald. “I am confident the project precisely reflects the wishes of the late George Knox.”
But according to Mr Tulley, nothing could be further from the truth.
“Mr Knox would certainly not want his most generous bequest being used to support the revenue spending of this council which has not even consulted the local relief fund – which he served so faithfully and is explicitly for the deserving poor of the town – about this grandiose project which I have heard no support for.
“The relief fund is an organisation of highly- respected Galashiels citizens who, since the last war, have discreetly helped the deserving poor of the town in a quiet, dignified way.
“The criteria to benefit from the fund, which is invested by SBC, has evolved to cover people living only on a state pension who have been resident in the town or its immediate surronding district for a minimum of 10 years.”
Mr Tulley said the fund, which was kick-started in 1943 with a bequest of £50,000 from ex-Provost Robert Watson, currently stood at £109,000.
“The yield on this investment is just £700 a year, but with the Knox bequest – and a more effective and lucrative investment policy – the earned interest could make a valuable contribution to alleviating hardship among older people in the town, especially in these hard financial times, and that is precisely what Mr Knox would have wanted.
“It is a shame George’s will was not more specific and gave SBC the loophole of using its discretion, but to fritter away this large sum on a half-baked scheme which is not targeted on the needy, would be a disgrace.
“Using the relief fund would also avoid the unseemly arguments, already reported, about who should be eligible to use such a facility.”
A SBC spokesperson said administering the funds through the GLRF fund was an alternative which would be considered along with other suggestions at the end of the consultation period which will include an open session in the Volunteer Hall, Galashiels, on Tuesday, March 15, from 3pm till 7pm.
“Local community councils and groups who are involved with older people are also being approached for their views,” added a council spokesperson.
Comments can be made via www.scotborners.gov.uk/consultations