Largs and Millport Weekly News

Article published around April 1999
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 Common Good Fund

Largs Common Good - Part 3

Last week we left the Common Good at September 1991 when CDC had decided to find out what assets each Common Good had.

Each year there is a two-week period when ANY member of the general public can go to Cunninghame House and scrutinise the accounts and get access to all of the receipts and invoices, deeds and vouchers etc. This period is typically about September, when the accounts for the year to the previous 31 March have been prepared, but not yet audited. If there is something wrong with the accounts an objection can be made to the auditor, who will consider it when he does the audit.

The first year that the income and expenses of the carpark were accounted for properly was from 1 April 1990 to 31 March 1991. The real surplus for the year was just over £24,000. At that time there was no evidence of any income relating to the properties in Wilson Street, School Street and Lade Street (which you will remember about from the first week). Bob Hunter, the Director of Finance, was totally unaware of them or any income from them at this point.

Ian Mackay, the Depute Director of Administration, provided a list of the Common Good assets in November 1992. What was on this list was (sort of) what was expected, being Haylie Estate, Routenburn Clubhouse and the two houses beside it, the carpark on the seafront, Lade Street, School Street and Douglas Park. Where was Wilson Street?

At a Community Council meeting in November 1992 Bob Hunter is reported as saying that he 'expressed concerns that he may have to look at the total assets of the Largs Common Good Fund, which may be to the detriment of the Largs Common Good Fund, if too many awkward questions are being asked'. What was Bob up to?

The 'review' of all of the Common Good Funds was continuing, and CDC had carried out all of the searches of legal titles by November 1992, and the costs of these were charged to the Common Good. Except for one. I bet you can guess which one that was. It seems that Ian Mackay and Bob Hunter were not quite on the same wavelength at this point.

As a wee aside here, Moorburn carpark had already been sold to CDC for £150,000 for sheltered housing and the gatehouse at Haylie had also been sold off and the money credited to the Common Good.

It is worthwhile also to note here that the Common Good was charged with an initial £34,000 in the year to 31 March 1992 for resurfacing the carpark. The following year to 31 March 1993, the Common Good was further charged with over £49,000.

And then came the results of the 'review' of the Common Good by CDC. Jimmy Gordon, the Director of Administration, issued a report to the Finance & Personnel Committee of CDC on 18 October 1993:

CDC had sold off (the by then derelict) 26 Wilson Street in 1981 for £3,500 and had kept the money.

School Street had originally been acquired by the Common Good in a 'swop' for building ground at Haylie (now Springfield Gardens). CDC had built sheltered housing on the School Street site in 1979. The value of the ground at School Street at the time of the 'swop' was £32,000.

Lade Street now had the AD Cameron Day Centre built on it.

The results of CDC 'losing' the Common Good in the early years after reorganisation in 1975 were now apparent.

CDC got an opinion of a legal Counsel about what to do. The Common Good had paid for Wilson Street and Lade Street, and would just be given its money back, and these would be treated as if they were 'interest free loans'. But surely the reason the Common Good paid for them was because the Town Council couldn't? And if the Town Council couldn't spend its own money on them, it couldn't borrow the money either, interest free or not.

Remember that the trustees of the Common Good were 'required' to get a reasonable return on this money, if they did not then they would not be acting in the best interests of the Common Good. So the Common Good needed to get more than its money back. You might reasonably think that the Common Good should have got back the 'market value' of the properties at the time CDC 'took them over', or alternatively is due interest on the 'loans' made to the Town Council and then to CDC.

However CDC decided to give the Common Good the original cost of £400 for Wilson Street, not the £3,500 which it was sold for, £32,000 for School Street and £3,200 for Lade Street, which is what it had cost.

The Common Good was to be paid £35,600 by CDC to finish off these matters. If the Common Good was paid the 'market value' or been given the interest on the 'loans' it could have been a lot more.

The other issue in Jimmy Gordon's report was that the Common Good didn't own the ground where the carpark was situated. The report agreed that all of the costs of construction were paid by the Common Good, and all of the running expenses were paid by the Common Good from 1928, when it opened, right up to the £49,000 paid in the year to March 1993.

However, on the basis that it didn't own the ground, the Common Good was to get no more income from the carpark.

Jimmy Gordon, Bob Hunter and Bernard Devine, the Chief Executive had all seen the opinion of the legal Counsel on this, but no-one else was allowed to see it.

There are some things that the officers of CDC didn't need to let even the members see, and this is called 'exempt information' and it is laid down in the 'rules' of how CDC functions. However, members can still get this information under 'common law' on the basis of a 'need to know' to do their jobs properly. The job can be as a member of the Council or as a trustee of the Common Good.

Tom Marshall and Richard Wilkinson asked to see the opinion and were 'knocked back' by the JBB trio. They complained about it, but it didn't do any good.

The Community Council informed Jimmy Gordon that it considered that a contract existed in 1927 which gave the Common Good the rights to the revenue from the carpark. Subsequently Jimmy writes a letter about the 'contract in 1927' in which he states 'I did not mention it because in my view there wasn't one'.

Note that there is nothing about what the legal Counsel thought about this; he wasn't even asked about it. As we will see next week, the legal Counsel's opinion doesn't mention that the Common Good shouldn't continue to get the income from the carpark. The JBB trio made this bit up!

The Common Good was charged with £1,150 for the advice and consultation of the legal Counsel.

So, where are we now? The Common Good had paid over £83,000 towards the carpark repairs and improvements but is not to get any income from it. It is to get £35,600 back for the old properties. It is early 1994.

Jimmy Gordon subsequently took early retirement and was replaced by Ian Mackay as the 'chief legal officer' of CDC.


Next week: David and the auditors get up to a bit of 'creative accounting' in the Common Good Fund.


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

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