Common Good proposal draws angry response

A BITTER row has erupted over plans to move hundreds of thousands of Hawick’s Common Good cash to a central pot at Newtown St Boswells.

And Scottish Borders Council leader David Parker has been accused of using “bullying tactics” to make sure the controversial proposals are pushed through – a charge he totally denies.

It is understood all six of the town’s councillors have reacted angrily to the move to create a single investment strategy, which was revealed this week. This would involve all the common good funds in the Borders – Duns, Galashiels, Hawick, Jedburgh, Kelso, Lauder, Peebles and Selkirk – coming together in one lump sum, in the hope of achieving a greater return.

Hawick Common Good currently has assets in excess of £3.2million with £88,000 deposited in a Roxburgh Investment Fund – along with Jedburgh and Kelso – and £450,000 in a loan account with SBC.

Jedburgh has the most, but others, such as Selkirk and Galashiels, have considerably less.

And while any returns would be shared out on a pro rata basis, the investment risks would also be far greater for Hawick.

Councillor Zandra Elliot, chairperson of the Hawick Common Good group, said: “Different Common Good funds have different needs and it is essential that the trustees of each particular fund look for the best return and best strategy to suit those needs.

“Given the particular commitments and requirements of Hawick Common Good Fund, especially with regard to the golf course, farmlands and property, my fellow councillors and I could see no advantage to be gained by Hawick in joining the proposed investment strategy.”

Councillor Parker said every Fund currently invests in the market. He said any investment would be “low key” and rubbished comparisons with the £10million currently lost through the collapse of Icelandic banks Heritable and Landbanski in October.

“Obviously any investments that take place, especially involving common good fund finances would be carried out in low risk sectors of the market and we would be seeking the safest investments possible that offered the most attractive returns,” he said.

“Iceland is a total red herring as it was not an investment it was a deposit; there is a difference.

“The new investment strategy that we’re suggesting for our common good funds will be no more risky than the current arrangements that are in place in Hawick,” he added.

The plans are currently out for consultation, although the usual time frame for this (12 weeks) has been reduced to just six-and-a-half weeks because of the work needed to set up the new system.

It comes as the local authority tries to establish exactly which assets they own and which are Common Good in towns across the Borders.

Councillor Elliot said: “There is a large amount of money involved and we need to ensure that it is used transparently and solely for the benefit of Hawick.

“Neither I, nor my fellow Hawick councillors will lie down to Councillor Parker’s bullying tactics.”

But the local authority leader hit back and said any decision would be made by all councillors at a meeting next month.

He said: “These comments are untrue and completely unfair and do nor resemble remotely the very constructive comments that I made at Tuesday’s in trying to clarify for some members their total misunderstanding of what was being presented to them.”