Largs and Millport Weekly News

Article published around April 1999
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 Common Good Fund

Largs Common Good - Part 2

On 16 May 1975 Cunninghame District Council inherited all of the rights, duties and obligations of Largs Town Council. At this time all of the councillors of CDC, not just the Largs councillors, became the trustees of the Largs Common Good.

When CDC was set up the 'rules' in the Act specifically stated that the income and expenses of the Common Good Funds could not be intermingled with the general fund of the Council, and had to be accounted for separately, just as Largs Town Council had done.

As with most major reorganisations, there were some teething problems initially at CDC in getting things sorted out with the Common Good. In 1980 the Community Council wrote to the Local Authority 'Ombudsman' complaining that CDC 'lost' the Common Good for two years at reorganisation, that it was unable to get information on the Common Good from CDC and complained of 'maladministration'.

In 1983 there was further consternation when it seemed that the Common Good was 'in the red' and the Director of Finance, Ian Herd, wrote back to the Community Council with assurances that this was to do with one of the two different accounts of the Common Good, revenue and capital, possibly being in deficit, but in total over the two accounts everything was OK.

Things proceed until 1989, when it was revealed that all of the takings from the car park charges were not being paid to the Common Good. Instead of the Common Good paying for all of the costs of running the car park and receiving all of the income, CDC were paying a set yearly sum to the Common Good, and had been doing so since 1975. The yearly amount paid to the Common Good had not been reviewed since 1981. The Largs & Millport Weekly News asked a local Chartered Accountant (Ahem!) whether what CDC had done was correct, and the answer was no, it was not.

Ian Herd did not take this adverse comment very well, and at a Council meeting is reported as saying that if he found out who the CA was he would 'have his certificates off him'. He was told who it was.

Meanwhile the Accounts Commission, who audit Local Authorities, came on to the scene, and in July 1989 the Acting Controller of Audit provided CDC with a letter containing his analysis of the situation. Any 'loss' to the Common Good from 1975 to 1980 cannot be quantified (this is the period when Ian Herd appeared to 'lose' the Common Good). Taking all of the later years, it appears that things mostly 'even out' and that the Common Good had only lost out by £7,400 up to 1989. He also states that CDC should do the accounting for the car park income and expenses properly from now on.

This did not go down well at Cunninghame House, and at the August 1989 Council Meeting Mike McGuire, the Leader of the Council, tried out his Pontius Pilate impersonation and suggests that CDC 'wash its hands' of the car park and make it free, thereby denying the Common Good any income from it. The Convenor, Jack Carson, seconded this.

Sorry guys, you can't do that! Jimmy Gordon, the Director of Administration informed the Council that the duties of a trustee of the Common Good are more onerous in law than those of a councillor. As trustees they must do the best for the Common Good, no matter what they may personally want.

At this point Ian Herd took early retirement and was replaced as Director of Finance by Bob Hunter. I still have all of my 'certificates'.

In April 1990 Bob Hunter eventually agreed to amend the amount paid to the Common Good in respect of the two years to March 1990, but didn't give the Common Good the £7,400 in respect of the previous years. The accounting for the Common Good was changed from 1 April 1990, so that it was done properly.

Everything now went quiet, but a query from the Community Council about the Common Good 'buying' a community centre in March 1991 brought the following comments from Jimmy Gordon: '...the Trustees (in this case all Members of the Council) have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the Trust Fund. Therefore in this specific case so long as the property was a good investment and any subsequent lets reflected a comparable economic return the Trustees would be regarded as fulfilling their fiduciary duties'. Quite a good wee summary.

Then came the carpark extension! You will all know the basic story about how a wee redhaired viking-chap had his tent pitched across from Nardinis when the JCBs arrived, and this caused a big stooshie.

However, just before this, the Community Council had tried to get CDC to stop building the extension by legal means at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court, and had applied for an interdict to stop it. The notice of this was served at CDC on the day of a Council Meeting. It wasn't our old sparring partners McGuire and Carson who brought it up, it was David O'Neill, who asked for a list of the assets for all of the Common Good Funds in Cunninghame. And so started 'the review'.

Mike McGuire subsequently failed to be reselected as a candidate by the Labour Party for the next Council elections.


Next week: Jimmy, Bob and Bernard get an answer that the Common Good ended-up paying for, but what was the question?


Jim Perman is a Chartered Accountant and a Registered Auditor. He is also Subject Panel Leader in Finance & Fiscal Studies at Napier University of Edinburgh.

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