Friday, October 31, 2014

Highland Council's Nairn Common Good 14 year mega mistakes - £187K cash back - what Laurie said plus Gurn opinion

Laurie was even briefer than Colin when it came to commenting on the tragedy that was the failure of Highland Council to implement subsequent rent increases for the Lochloy Caravan site on the behalf of Nairn Common Good fund. This is the final post of four detailing what our elected representatives said in Glenurquhart Road Council chamber yesterday (scroll down the Gurn for the others) as the assembled 80 members and their top officials prostrated their municipal selves and paid public penance eastwards towards our community, Ker-ching a result and £187K into the Nairn Common Good fund till. Laurie said:

“I’ll just be very brief, centralisation, you can’t blame this on the District Council, that’s one thing we know. So I would just...I would want to see the District Council back again and take control of our Common Good in Nairn. “

Laurie was to add a little more but first there was an intervention from Independent Cllr Margaret Davidson, the Aird and Loch Ness member. She asked:

“Has the internal auditor’s report been presented to the Nairn Committee and in public?” 

The reply came that it was a personal report that had been done for the chief executive and it has not been made public.

Laurie then said: “Can I just come back on that. I was always hoping that that report would actually come into the public domain.” 

Jimmy Gray, chairing the meeting said that Derek Yule (the Director of Finance)had offered to discuss the matter with Cllr Davidson. There then followed the unanimous decision to pay back £187,000 to the Nairn Common Good Fund.

Gurn opinion:

In retrospect it is probably better to wait this long time to get this cash, if it had been coming in over the years when it should have been perhaps it might have been wasted in the same appalling way that the fund has apparently been administered in the past. Now our four members have the opportunity to fully consult with the public and work out ways of wisely using this cash to generate more capital for the Common Good and to ensure the people of Nairn enjoy the benefit that the exposure of this appalling episode has rightfully brought to us at last. 

On the matter of drawing a line under this as Liz and Colin suggest, this observer feels that that cannot be done until the report that went to the Chief Executive is in the public domain and the citizens of Nairn can actually find out the full details of how these errors were made.

Highland Council's Nairn Common Good 14 year howler - £187K cash back - what Colin said

Cllr Colin MacAulay was much briefer than Liz or Michael when he spoke to the chamber in Glenurquhart Road as the corporate entity that is Highland Council held its head in collective shame and contrition over the appalling administration of Nairn Common Good funds, he said:

“I was going to begin mine with “least said soonest mended”. I don’t any point in rubbing salt in anybody’s wounds over this. The key issue I think really is to thank the people who unearthed it and to thank the Council for holding its hands up and admitting liability. I really am grateful to Derek and particularly to Louise, Liz and Lyn. Going forward I think the Nairn community need to be confident that basically, common good assets are being given a thorough airing every month at ward business meetings. They are also now being given a very public scrutiny at Area Committee meetings and we should all be embarrassed over this not just the four Nairn trustees. Trustees going back through the years but all 80 of us. We are all the guardians of that. We did let people down and I’m grateful to Derek and hopefully people today in terms of recompensing Nairn. Thanks very much. "

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Red Cross shop to open Thurs 13th November

Work is proceeding well at the new Red Cross Charity Shop on Nairn High Street and the Gurn hears that the shop will probably open around 11 am on Thursday the 13th of November. 

Highland Council's Nairn Common Good 14 year blunder - £187K cash back - what Michael said

When he got his turn in the Glenurquhart Road chamber earlier today Cllr Michael Green said:

"I’ve got three points to make. The first point, I’d like to put on record my appreciation to the way that Highland Council has addressed this difficult issue and especially I’d like to thank Derek Yule and David Hass, they have worked through, they have established the facts and put forward what I think is an honourable and equitable proposal to recompense the Nairn Common Good Fund so I would just like to make that clear that we are very appreciative of the efforts that you guys have put up. 

The second point I’d like to make and there’s only three so bear with me. And some may disagree with this, it’s what I view, this is a serious aspect here, is a failure of oversight and governance by longstanding and existing members of the Council. These are Nairn trustees, there’s some have retired, some are, as I say current members. When I was first elected in 2012 one of the first things I did was to ask our then full time manager, Louise Clark, what were the terms and conditions surrounding the Parkdean lease. A hundred year lease with reviews every seven years in line with RPI and the next review is due in November 2013. [...] Late in 2013 it was not the 10 to fifteen percent uplift I was expecting but a near doubling of the current Parkdean rental. Having been involved with commercial property both as owner and letting I knew exactly what had happened. Several rent reviews had been missed. We’re very well trained here at the Highland Council it’s been one of the more pleasant aspects of the job. We’re very well trained, we’re very well trained in governance. We know what best practice is, we know what to expect – that’s assuming that you turn up for the training. However, the Parkdean lease is our main source of income. It dwarfs everything else, it’s the one thing that dominates the Common Good. I’m not expecting existing councillors over the years to go in for detailed forensic analysis of individual leases although that would be nice but I would expected a degree of curiosity as to why over a period of 14 years our prime source of income had not increased. 

Unfortunately for Nairn Common Good fund and for the citizens on the Highlands who have to pay up – Nairn Common Good is not losing out for this and that’s Highland Council doing the honourable thing by recompensing the Common Good – we are not losing out but the citizens of the Highlands are going to have to foot the bill for the 187,000. That’s the real downside of this.

The third and last point, you will be glad to hear, I’ve retitled “Pandora’s Box”. The reason I’ve put this, I don’t think – well – I likened the old relationship between the Highland Council and the Common Good fund, I used the family analogy that it was an orphan with the role of the Highland Council as a foster parent with Nairn Common Good fund as an orphan. The foster parent is doing just enough to keep it out of the clutches of the authorities who I would see in the role of Audit Scotland. Currently things have improved dramatically, there’s far greater reporting, we are getting monitoring reports. It’s not ideal but it is a step forward in the right direction. [...] However, to get confidence and this is an important point, to get confidence back in the Nairn Common Good fund and to get folk to ultimately make bequests, to leave houses, to actually see the Common Good fund as a transformational vehicle that can build houses, affordable houses for people; that can buy shops; that could take shops on the High Street and let them out to people from Nairn. It can be a vehicle for change. To get there we need a new arrangement. 

And when I say Pandora’s Box, what I mean is we need to look at a new arrangement empowering communities. It’s getting the Community Councils, it’s getting a greater voice for Nairn people in the role of their Common Good as in the life of the town. [...] That we form some sort of forum, a new relationship whereby there is a way that Community Councils and individuals can express their wishes for the Common Good. 

Michael then tried to continue but was cut short by Jimmy Gray who told Michael he had already had three points. Realising his time was up Michael quipped: “We’ll take the cash!”

Highland Council's Nairn Common Good 14 year admin disaster - £187K cash back - what Liz said

Jimmy Gray introduced the item which detailed the Highland Council’s failure and responsibility to pay back cash lost to the fund and then said : “Can we just agree that members?” It wasn’t to be though as Councillors wanted to speak. 

Liz was first up after an official spoke she said: “I think one of the really positive things of having the Area Committee is that we have been able to discuss this matter over the period of the last year at three or four area committees that we’ve had. I think in the past there has been lack of scrutiny and there has been suspicion from the public about how the Common Good funds were being administered. So having the area committee has meant that we have been much more transparent and everything has been done openly. I would definitely like to thank the members of the Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey area committee for their patience because lots of sensitive reports have been coming forward and Nairn members in particular were under significant pressure for more information and I’m grateful for their support so the issue was given time and it could be dealt with properly, investigated and that proposals were given the chance to be worked at to the stage that we are at today. 

Our previous ward manager Louise Clark had identified the problem and our present ward manager Liz Cowie and her assistant Lyn Maclennan have been working very hard to sort out the matter and develop practices and procedures to ensure Nairn Common Good has proper record keeping and robust management and scrutiny going forward. Over the year there has been substantial support from Council officers considering the Common Good. From the Chief Exec to the finance, legal, audit and Inverness City manager and I would like to thank them all for their endeavours. It has taken a long time and a massive amount of effort to get us to this point. [...] Today we have to decide which option we are going to support for cash restitution and all the Nairn members support option 1. As Derek mentioned the financial implications for both options are the same for the Council and I would like to propose that we opt for option 1 because this would bring the problem to an end, draw a line under it and we can hopefully move on with more positive management of Nairn Common Good. So I hope we can unanimously agree this proposal and we all have a duty to administer the Common Good funds and there have been significant improvements in the way we carry out this duty in the last year and moving forward it should be much more positive.

Highland Council to give Nairn Common Good £187K cashback - hands up to past mega-failure

It went through unanimously after about 12 minutes of statements from local members; Jimmy Gray chairing the meeting cut Michael Green short, plus one intervention from Cllr Margaret Davidson asking if a background report on the failure was in the public domain - it wasn't. 

Further background in this previous Gurn article.

more later.

County support from the roof of the world - picture from Chris MacKinnon

"Everywhere else in Scotland and in Highland a Community Enterprise body with over a 1000 members would be regarded as a great starting point."

There was a frank and considerably broad soul-searching episode last night at the NICE AGM in the Community Centre. Alistair Noble wished to encourage conversation about progress (or the lack of it so far). NICE will find it extremely hard to move forward until they find a new potential tenant to move into the Old Social Work Buildings – Gurnites will remember that a childcare business set to move into the Social Work buildings pulled out and headed for the Rosebank Church instead. There was much expressed too about the sincerity of Highland Council as a partner to the Community Enterprise body although Cllr Michael Green was present to attempt to soothe nerves and add some perspective from that direction. There were gloomy currents but streams of optimism too – a feeling that success is still possible and that everyone can move forward positively for the benefit of the common good. Over the next few days, if time permits the Gurn will detail some of the opinions heard last night 

NICE now comprises a membership of 1065 (three signing on the night) and there were around 60 members present and 51 others sent their apologies. 

Here is the Chairman’s report from Alistair Noble which set the tone for the evening’s proceedings:

“ I was going to start as a keen gardener by saying we have done a lot of spade work and soon we will be ready to plant and see things growing! But and it is a big but we as directors and a large number of NICE members have to put a lot of time and energy into developing a track record and saying we have delivered proposal x and are working in partnership with all other agencies and the blunt truth is that amount of time and effort is not producing the results we expected. 

Everywhere else in Scotland and in Highland a Community Enterprise body with over a 1000 members would be regarded as a great starting point. Normally the statutory bodies would work with the charity to develop capacity and help raise extra funds from all the sources open to the charity. 

Why is that not happening with NICE?

It seems amazing to me that a group of people who have a proven track record of working in many different ways for the Common Good of Nairnshire are seen as being difficult and somehow to be stopped. It will come as no great surprise that I do not think Nairnshire has had its Fair Share of resources in the boom times. I therefore will be arguing along with all of Nairnshire that we should not pay an equal share of the cuts. 

To the Future then and how we make NICE work.

We will work in partnership with all agencies. The work of the combined Community Councils is helping to deliver a new Nairnshire Plan. The bypass is looking realistic at last. We will work with the HC on town centre regeneration. We are in serious discussions with other partners to help this happen. The right to buy again is important as the various schemes progress.

The harbour/river/flooding/sewage needs some serious thinking and expenditure but it has to be done. We will do all we can to make it work.

Sandown and the wetlands are again linked to the best use of the Common Good and wea rea again working in partnership to help deliver these proposals. 

We have always argued that Nairnshire needs to develop and improve to compete with all the other tourist, retirement and places to live and work competition it faces. 

We are helping the Nairn People and the Integrated Health and Social care services to develop the Nairnshire capacity it deserves, with a Fair share budget. 

This is a time of great opportunity for Nairnshire. In thanking my fellow directors for all their hard work I would also like to thank the CC chairs and members for their input. 

We need a frank discussion with our members tonight about the way forward. I look to the 2015 report for a much cheerier future."

River CC update their internet prescence and put "Nairn River Enterprise" documents online

River Community Council have recently added more pages to their website. You can now access all the minutes for 2014 from one page. There is also a page that links to copies of letters they have recently written. A new page too for the nascent River CC creation "Nairn River Enterprise" which contains some documents and minutes of the new organisation's meetings so far. 

Nairn River Enterprise's steering group includes three Highland Councillors, Laurie Fraser, Colin MacAulay and Liz MacDonald, Tommy Hogg and Simon Noble of River CC, the Rev Steven Manders, Archire McLaren of Broadley Garden Centre, Gill MacLean CAB manager, Susan Jardine and Nicola MacKenzie of Highland Council Employability service and Raymond Barton the manager of Sainsbury's. 

It certainly looks like River Enterprise have the active backing and involvement of Highland Council. More details on the River Community Council pages here. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Nairn bypass by 2019 if all goes well?

Early yesterday the town’s Community Councils met up with Transport Scotland and their bypass consultants Jacobs. Dick Youngson, chairing the joint meeting of West and Suburban CCs, told those assembled last night in Nairn Academy:

“We had a very good meeting with them and we really sort of confirmed the route, the timescale and almost the finished date of our section.”

Dick added that they pointed out some of the areas where Transport Scotland could look again, particularly areas where farms where seriously bisected but that really the route has been chosen and that he thought that they would stick with it. Dick went on to say that it was the most cost effective route. 

On time-scale Dick said: “We’re really talking about two years to identify contractors and to get the valuers in to negotiate acquisitions, compulsory purchase orders, settling compensation. That will be done quite quickly. Again crossing the railway, there will be accommodations with Railtrack, again quite quickly, once we know what sections of the that are being upgraded to twin track. That obviously dictates the size and length of the railway bridge. It’ll take them three years to build the section from Inverness to the east end of our bypass so almost from now, from today, five years on, if everything goes well; if everything runs, we’ll have a bypass. That’s what the timescale is.”

Dick added that the rest of the A96 route would be finished by 2030. Graham Kerr added a caveat on funding though, he said: 

“Whether the 3 year contract period will start right away, whether five years will see the back of it – there could well be a gap in the middle whilst the funding has to be found.”

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The cuts - Time for Highland Council to tell us just what might go from Nairn?

Earlier this week we posted an article concerning a recent meeting for Highland Council workforce members in Nairn. At that meeting the Gurn understands that outcomes concerning potential forthcoming cuts were discussed. Our article: "Threat to Nairn's Balblair Road Council depot" is here. 

We asked the Council the precise nature of that meeting and whether it concerned redundancies. This is the prompt reply we got on Monday morning.

"Staff received a briefing in advance of Phase 2 of the Council’s budget consultation starting later this week. The meeting was about service provision and budget pressures and not a meeting to discuss redundancies specifically. No decisions about changes have been made as Phase 2 of the consultation has not happened."

Tonight STV state on their website: "Highland Council expects to shed 1000 jobs over the next four years as a result of £64m worth of budget cuts." More on the STV site here.

Gurn opinion: In a vacuum rumours will abound. It is now time for the Highland Council to put any information released to the local workforce into the public domain. We have the right to know just how our local services may be affected and then we can digest that information and form an opinion as to whether we think any outcomes are fair to our community and what is the amount of job losses that we might see because once these sort of jobs are gone from Nairn they won't return. 

Sunday was citizens action day - cuts hit the Riverside

The wind had been in the willows overnight into Sunday morning and there were a couple of blockages on the riverside paths. Citizen Murd headed home and swiftly returned equipped to remove the inconvenience for river walkers. 

Nearby, as this picture was taken, another citizen was clearing the riverside of litter. Murd says he often sees people out and about picking up rubbish in these popular areas. 

Cearcall Comhraidh Inbhir Narann - Disathairne

The Community side of gardening and horticulture - events that might interest Gurnshire enthusiasts

Two events that enthusiasts out there may be interested in. Information has only reached us recently and they are short notice but some of the gardeners out there in Gurnshire may be interested.

1) 31st October 2014.  Inverness Community Garden Networking Day (FCFCG in association with Trellis) 9.45am-4pm, Town House, High Street, Inverness. More details here.

2)  Orchard Gathering  2014. Victoria Halls, Dunblane, Fri 7th Nov, 10am-10.30pm. More details here.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Nairn Common Good - Highland Council's 187K failure to implement rent rises for the caravan site - hands up and pay back time on Thursday?

There is a full meeting of the Highland Council on Thursday (30th October). One of the items on the agenda is "Nairn Common Good Fund, Restitution of Rental Income – Lochloy Caravan"

A report going before the Council can be accessed by clicking on item 18 of the agenda on this page here.

The report states in relation to the Council's failure to implement rent rises in relation to the caravan site: "...As a result £0.187m has been lost in both increased rent and interest as a result of the Council’s failure to meet the standard of administration reasonably expected. £0.147m relates to the loss of rental income; and £0.040m relates to the loss of interest on that money, based on the average rate of interest earned by the Council in each year over the period on other investment funds."

At the end of the  the report (signed by Derek Yule, Director of Finance and David Haas, Inverness  City Manager) their are recommendations made to the Council.

"Council is invited to:

i. Agree to accept that the Council has not met the standard of administration expected in respect of its duty to manage the funds and assets of the Nairn Common Good Fund account under control of the Council.

ii. Agree to pay restitution to the Nairn Common Good Fund Account totalling£0.187m. 

iii. Consider whether the Council should pay a cash settlement to NCGF or write down its investment in the Sandown Lands, as per paragraph 3.2

iv. Note progress with the ongoing review of the Nairn Common Good Fund."

Nairn A&E closed again from 20.30 Sunday (26th) evening though to Monday (27th) morning at 08.30

Nairn 3 Strathspey 0 - pictures from Donald Matheson

Individual images here. Full screen slideshow here.

Threat to Nairn's Balblair Road Council Depot?

The Gurn understands that members of the Highland Council's workforce were called in earlier this week to a meeting connected with forthcoming budget cuts. The Gurn also understands that among possible outcomes may be the closure of the Balblair Road Depot and/or transfer of some employees to Inverness. 

The Gurn has asked Highland Council for more information about the meeting.  

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Nairn 3 Strathspey 0 - Pictures Kenny MacLeod

Individual images here. Full screen slideshow here. 

A riverside tree to watch out for on these windy days?

Our Riverside correspondent Murd tells us that he believes that the tree pictured above (just below the Whinnieknowe brae and sheltered housing) has shifted a little after a branch recently fell off the supporting tree. The Gurn understands that Murd has alerted River Community Council and hopes they will push his concerns up the municipal chain towards Highland Council.  Larger image of tree here. Worth a look upwards when passing this spot perhaps?

Stunning video of Nairn Beach and Cawdor Castle shot by holidaymaker

"Just a we" video I created after our couple of days away in Nairn. Can't wait to get back next year," said PDG05 on their Youtube page.

A&E at Nairn closed Sat 25th 20.30 thru to Sun 26 8.30

"Highland Council owes Nairn Common Good Fund £187,000 for 14 year old clerical error." says Donna

Friday, October 24, 2014

Chalk drawings on Castle Lane Square

Some interesting chalk drawings on Castle Lane Square today. Good to see this public space used creatively. They might still be there in the morning if the overnight weather is kind. The Gurn understands that it was a fundraiser during the day to raise awareness of Children's mental health issues. 
Click the picture to enlarge. 

Former Blockbuster Store to become Bookies with 2-bedroom flat on first floor? - planning application submitted

A planning application that has been lodged with Highland Council as follows:

" Existing ground floor retail unit by change of use into class 2, betting office. Existing part retail unit, part assembly space on first floor to be converted into a 2-bedroom flat."