Largs and Millport Weekly News

Article published around April 1999
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 Common Good.

Largs Common Good - Part 5

Donald Dewar became Secretary of State for Scotland in May 1997.

Objection was lodged against the NAC accounts for the year to 31 March 1997. Copies of this objection went to Donald Dewar, Brian Wilson, the Police, the Procurator Fiscal as well as the usual suspects at Cunninghame House, and the local NAC councillors, Margaret Highet, Bobby Rae and Richard Wilkinson.

The cover-up £40,000 transaction was objected to again as being illegal. Graham Potter, the auditor, refers to the 'rules' relating to the accounting by CDC to try to justify this, but he used the original 'rules' from 1975. These were amended in 1987. The transaction in 1994 was illegal, and it was now quite unlikely that Donald Dewar would be prepared to back-date approval on behalf of Michael Forsyth to make it legal.

Graham Potter was not a happy chap when this was pointed out to him. David Nibloe then at CDC, John Clayton, the audit manager, and he all knew about this transaction. He did not deny that it was illegal but said 'Even if there is substance to your assertion...'and makes up another excuse to do nothing.

CDC had agreed to 'gift' the revenue from the carpark to the Common Good, but it was not done in 1996. When CDC ceased and became NAC, all of the obligations of CDC were transferred to NAC in 1996, so the 'gift' of the net profits should still have been made not only in 1996 and but also in 1997. No payment was made, so the Common Good had now been shortchanged by about £100,000.

However, despite this, the Common Good still has a right to the income from the carpark from 1927, and continuing denial of this by CDC and now NAC was a criminal act of fraud and the results of this were theft.

The accounting for the repairs to Routenburn Clubhouse also got messed-up, and this was reported as part of the objection.

As a further issue, it also appeared that the audit by the Accounts Commission did not fully comply with how it was supposed to be done for Common Good Funds.

Graham Potter was in a difficult position. He, David Nibloe and John Clayton were all caught being implicated in an illegal cover-up transaction, which he couldn't deny and couldn't fix. Having misinterpreted the opinion of legal Counsel in a previous year, he was unlikely to be able to change his mind about it now. He was not happy to be told his audit was inadequate, since this is how it had always been done.

And so he did nothing (as usual).

When Bobby Rae became a councillor at NAC he had a shot at trying to find out about the carpark issue, and because he was copied on the objection to the 1997 accounts wrote to tell me what happened. It seems that Bernard Devine had a few words with Jimmy Clements, the Leader of NAC, and Jimmy was of the view that the entire matter was closed. Was it? Well, we'll see about that. You might wonder now if any of the members of CDC, and NAC, were or are involved in the ongoing illegal activities, or their cover-up, at Cunninghame House.

Objection was lodged against the 1998 accounts, and it is from this letter that the Largs and Millport Weekly News printed extracts on 19 March 1999.

Copies were sent to the same people as the previous year, with the addition of Ian Mackay, the chief legal officer at NAC, and the Chairman of the Accounts Commission.

Because, in the previous year, the illegalities had been notified to the auditor and to NAC and nothing had been done, a whole new load of offences had now occurred. Since no remedial action had been taken there was now continuing illegality, which is a matter for the Secretary of State.

The basic objections were still the same, but were made even more specific:

1. The illegal cover-up transaction for £40,000 had not been fixed;

2. The transfer of the income from CDC/NAC had not been made for 3 years and the Common Good had now been shortchanged by about £150,000;

3. Irrespective of point 2, above, the Common Good had a right to the income from the carpark, and that 'right' is an asset of the Common Good. Officers of CDC and NAC had withheld information from the trustees and provided misinformation about this. If they agreed between them to do it they were all guilty of conspiracy as well as fraud;

4. Failure to give the Common Good the income from the carpark as a 'right' was theft;

5. Some of the income from Haylie and from Routenburn had been missed out;

6 and 7. The accounting for the repairs to Routenburn had been messed-up;

8. The audit was inadequate; and

9. The accounts of the Largs Common Good Fund were inadequate.

Graham Potter ducked the whole thing, as usual. While all of this was on the go, Bob Hunter took early retirement. What a double surprise!

And now here we were, almost right up-to-date, in the middle of February 1999.

Well where do we go from here?

All of the North Ayrshire Councillors voted-in on 6 May will be trustees of the Largs Common Good Fund. With the publication of these articles over the past 5 weeks, none of them can plead ignorance of the issues. As trustees they are legally required to do 'the best' for the Common Good, and this is more onerous in law than any of their functions as councillors.

If they don't carry out the duties of trustees adequately they can all be held liable for the results, and may also be removed as trustees by the Sheriff Court.

The operation of the Largs Common Good Fund since 1975 has been catalogue of financial and legal mismanagement.

The first duty of the new trustees should be to get the Common Good its money back. Up to the end of March 1999 this will probably be over £200,000. This is a right of the Common Good, from 1927, not as a 'gift' by the Council. This right continues today.

Of the original JBB trio who are implicated in the supression of information from 1993 there is only one 'B' left - Bernard Devine.

Jimmy Gordon, Bernard Devine and now Ian Mackay have all had legal training. They knew what they were doing. There may be an excuse in the cases of some officers or members due to the complexities of the legal issues, but it is hard to justify their past and continuing actions, and also those of Bob Hunter.

Graham Potter is implicated up to his back teeth by allowing all of this to go on. If he can't or won't do a proper audit, then we need to get another auditor. The Chairman of The Accounts Commission should take this matter in hand now.

Donald Dewar's troops in the Labour Party should wonder, with Jimmy Clements' involvement in 1996, whether the controlling group at NAC have anything to do with an attempt to cover this whole thing up.

Donald's other troops in the Scottish Office (or maybe they will be Eck's troops by then) may like to consider starting an enquiry. After 'Watergate' we had 'Monklandsgate'. What about 'The Carpark Gate'?

This is not nearly over. There is still a long way to go to get justice and our money back.

So, what could you do over the next week? If canvassed by a candidate for the Council elections, ask: 'What are YOU going to do about the Largs Common Good Fund?' If you get an interesting reply, please let me know.

Depending on what happens over the next few months, it may be an idea to have an examination of the NAC accounts for 1999 (in about September) by the beneficiaries of the Largs Common Good (everyone in Largs). Subsequently 'loads' of individual objections could be lodged against them with the auditor (whoever that happens to be then), who is obliged to have a meeting for each objection. Buses could be run for these. Watch this space!

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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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