Common Good fund reform calls rejected at full council

A BID to reform how the various Trusts and Common Good Funds held by Aberdeenshire Council has failed, after councillors voted down a proposal to cap the administration charges which are levied upon the funds.

Aberdeenshire councillors voted by a margin of 33 votes to 30 last week to reject a proposal by Peterhead SNP Councillor Stephen Smith that charges on the funds should be capped so as not to exceed the income which they generate.

The Common Good Funds were inherited from the former Town Councils and can be used on projects within the boundaries of these former burghs. Currently, the administration charge levied by Aberdeenshire Council against Common Good Funds is double that of the annual interest income.

Despite winning the backing of the Independent and Democratic Independent councillors present, Liberal Democrat and Conservative councillors united to defeat the SNP proposal and to uphold the current position. The debate at full council followed an earlier vote on the matter at a meeting of the Policy and Resources committee, which had seen Cllr Smith’s proposal defeated by 7 votes to 6.

However, following contributions from Inverurie Councillors Martin Kitts-Hayes (LD) and Bryan Stewart (SNP), it emerged during the debate that the Inverurie Common Good Fund has not made any payments over the last two years.

The fund is holding £109,000 in cash according to the council’s Statement of Accounts for 2010/11, down from £110,000 the previous year. Kintore’s fund stands at £44,000, while Oldmeldrum’s is at £11,000.

Cllr Smith was backed by SNP Group leader, Huntly Cllr Joanna Strathdee, who echoed Cllr Smith’s concerns that the administrative costs being levied by Aberdeenshire Council were in some cases eating into the capital held in the trusts.

However, in speaking against, Conservative Group Leader Cllr Jim Gifford advised councillors that the matter had already been considered at committee and moved an amendment to support the current position, on the grounds that the income generated overall for the funds exceeded the costs of the administration.

During the debate, council finance head Alan Wood provided an overview of the position for councillors. He defended the current situation, saying he was satisfied that the council was managing achieving best value within an acceptable level of risk.

Speaking after the meeting, Inverurie and District SNP Cllr Bryan Stuart said that the argument had been won, even if the vote had been lost.

“At the moment, because the Inverurie Common Good Fund only distributes grants from its income, there is no money to do so because the administration charge levied by the council more than wipes that out.

“That cannot be right and it was clear from listening to other speakers during today’s debate that the current position is not sustainable and I expect we will see some changes brought forward after the elections.”

Despite voting down the proposal, Inverurie Conservative Councillor Richard Cowling made plain his dissatisfaction with the current position.

“I have asked for documentation regarding the Common Good Fund three times in the past and have yet to receive anything”, he said.

“I know that the four Inverurie councillors have the authority to use the fund for the benefit of Inverurie and if the fund made £4,000 in interest a year, we could spend £4,000.

“We need a definitive answer regarding the Common Good Fund, and what is required and how it is administered.”