Common good usurped

At last – Some understanding of the common good.

I was really heartened to read TheSouthern of February 9 in which your reporter had highlighted the views of Councillor Nicholas Watson of the Borders Party on common good funds and what he had achieved at council.

We in Selkirk have complained for years that we are allowed virtually no input into the administration of our common good fund (CGF) and that much of it is held in secrecy under claims of commercial confidentiality.

There are two points to make here.

Firstly the council does not own the common good, the community to which it refers does. The council, only since 1975, has owned the titles and with them the responsibility to administer the CGF for the benefit of the inhabitants.

Elected councillors depend on the council officers to advise them; the officers use for reference a book on common good law by a council lawyer who, on page 1, says that the councils own common good funds “outright”.

This statement is legally wrong and the author has not yet had the grace to retract. This dangerously misleading assertion has reassured councils that they can do more or less what they like to CGFs without reference to the beneficial owners.

Cllr Watson’s suggestion for local community participation is absolutely right but they must also have some powers of control over their own property for such involvement to have true meaning.

My second point is that CGF meetings held in private, that is, in secret, could easily be held in confidence. The secrecy is not difficult to get round and the details ascertained. Cllr Watson’s motion will at least make it easier to find out what is being discussed without us having to resort to “deep throats”.

In Selkirk we have several reasons for wishing to have input into the administration of our CGF

The fund was deprived of an asset, a football field, without compensation – part of it recently sold for £60,000, and Selkirk CGF got nothing. Our revenue reserves were squandered within the last five years on unnecessary payouts; and recently the sum obtained for a common good asset (£83,000) was credited to Scottish Borders Council (SBC) after a vote.

This was later stated by a senior elected councillor to be “for the benefit of Selkirk people” – a simple untruth – and he failed to explain why SBC were happy to pay for refurbishment of other town’s CGF assets but not Selkirk’s. These ‘mistakes’ would not have been allowed to occur if there had been local knowledge, interest and experience taking a full part in CGF decision taking.

Quite apart from the ongoing arguments about who owns what and the manipulating, specious and twisting interpretations of the law by SBC in order to retain the properties that provide revenue that should be the CGF’s, is it any wonder that Selkirk is dissatisfied with SBC administration?

We have tried submitting evidence to Audit Scotland; they deleted our submission after a year without even reading it.

The Borders Party is therefore on the right lines; would that the other parties had shown similar interest.

So bear in mind the future of your common good when you vote in May. You owe it to your descendants.

And in support of Cllr Watson, he has recognised a simple truth: the best guardians of property are the owners, not the managers.

Dr Lindsay Neil