Common good assets being given to new leisure Trust?

For the attention of Ronnie Hinds, CEO Fife Council
Please find below for your information a copy of an e-mail sent to all 78 councillors in Fife.
Common good assets being given to new leisure Trust?

Dear Councillor, as an elected representative in Fife you will be aware that you have the responsibility of ensuring that the common good assets left by past benefactors to the burghs of Fife are, by law, your responsibility. This onerous legal responsibility was the subject of a letter written to the C.E.Os and Directors of Finance of all 32 local authorities by the Scottish Executive Minister and the Head of Best Value practice. See: Letter from the Head of Best Value & Performance Team, Scottish Executive to Directors of Finance – 16 March 2007 (24 KB pdf)

Given the need for councillors to act as stewards of the common good assets of the former burghs, I read with interest on your website and in the Scotsman yesterday that Fife Council are expected to approve the setting up of a Trust by way of a company limited by guarantee to oversee various leisure centres in Fife. One leisure centre in the list featured on Fife Direct website is the Carnegie Leisure Centre Dunfermline. You will no doubt be aware that the site on which this building is situated is common good land.

Whether or not there are other sites or buildings in the list of leisure centres that belong in whole or part to the common good is not clear as the collation of a comprehensive list of common good assets is still a “work in progress”, despite the fact that the council has a clear obligation to have “comprehensive and accurate registers of common good assets”.

Given the uncertainty as to who owns what in Fife (the common good or the council) it is possible that there are other common good assets that may be transferred to the proposed new limited company. Can you please advise me if this is the case?

As far as the Carnegie Leisure Centre is concerned would the new limited company act as the stewards of this common good asset? If so, how would this square with the recent statements by the Scottish Executive on the stewardship of common good assets by elected representatives? Given that the limited company would appoint members by some means as yet not disclosed?

What would be the position if the common good asset being transferred or stewarded by the new limited company if it were classed as an inalienable common good asset?

Would the revenue from the lease or rent—or other receipts—of the Carnegie Leisure Centre continue to be paid into the common good fund?

On the assumption that revenue from the lease or rent of the Carnegie Leisure Centre would continue to be paid into the common good fund, which body would fix the rentable value?

Would the Fife Council’s 2004 guidelines regarding receipts from common good assets apply to the new company?

These are some of the questions that come to mind initially, but I would ask you to consider the more general question of the fairness of transferring assets out of the public to the private sector.

The people of the burghs have had no say in this matter and it certainly was not an issue that the political parties campaigned on at the recent elections. Once in the hands of a private body (even a private company limited by guarantee and regulated by OSCAR) the public will have no say in how these assets are managed, or disposed of.

In November 2006, The Scottish Labour Party at their annual conference in Oban passed a resolution condemning the use of charitable trusts as a vehicle for the avoidance of VAT (by way of rates relief) and the receipt of Lottery Funds.

This was hardly surprising as, a/ the rate-relief given to such bodies will cause a shortfall which others will have to make good; and b/ the voluntary sector—representing many worthy causes—will be the loser as it is already competing for a share of this finite cake, which will soon disappear if the big councils take the lions share.

The misuse of common good assets in the past is reckoned by Andy Wightman (See: ) to have resulted in assets worth £1.8 billion disappearing from Scottish burghs.

It was because of the misuse of these assets that the Liberal Democrat’s leader Sir Menzies Campbell, at the party’s conference in Dunfermline in 2006 called for: “New legislation to regulate, protect and modernise the management of all common good assets across Scotland”.

The Scottish Parliament is currently considering three public petitions on common good issues and there is the possibility that this consideration might extend to the European Parliament because of the concerns of MEPs arising out of the Glasgow transfer. I will certainly be raising the proposed transfer of Fife’s assets with an MEP and with Audit Scotland.

So before handing over the leisure assets of the people, the citizens of Fife, to a private limited company please consider the implications of the common good—in the narrow and broader sense.

Yours in the common good, Tom Minogue, 94 Victoria Terrace, Fife, KY12 0LU.