Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Historical Common Good problem surfaces to impact on River Nairn Fishery Board?

The Nairn Fishery Board met in the Cawdor Estate Office on Monday night. As the organisation’s website puts: “The Nairn Fishery Board exists to protect, enhance and conserve Atlantic salmon and sea trout in the River Nairn.” More information here. It was an interesting meeting with much that is important to the river discussed but an issue that originates in the town loomed over a large part of the proceedings. 

The minutes of the last meeting held in Cawdor Community Centre on the 10th of March recorded:
“Cllr Liz MacDonald queried why the Town Beat Proprietor (Highland Council) was not represented on the Board. Lorna Moffat informed the Board that she had taken over as mandatory for the Town Beat when Laurie Fraser stepped down. Cllr MacDonald said she would like to act as the Town Beat Proprietor and Lorna Moffat gave up her mandatory. LCA welcomed Liz MacDonald’s willingness to join the Board as a proprietor on behalf of the Council.”

Since then the Gurn understands that Liz’s membership of the board has not been ratified due to procedural or constitutional difficulties but at the meeting on Monday she was accorded the right to speak by the Chair, Lord Cawdor, as a co-opted member of the board and played an active role in the discussions. It could be claimed that the prime motivation for the Highland Council getting involved with the Fisheries Board again is the ongoing drama that is the administration of the Nairn Common Good Fund. Liz said that all four Nairn councillors agreed that the Council should pay a more active role in the Fishery Board. The board sets the levies on the beats and the Common Good is liable for the 100% of the assessment which currently sits at £9,000. This wasn’t a problem at the time when the lease was formulated but obviously with the levy now so high it impacts on the health of the Common Good Fund – the administration of which has been roundly criticised by many in Nairn in recent years. Lord Cawdor told Liz that the Board were neutral on this “strange lease agreement” but “If I was in your shoes I would be very uncomfortable about it.”

This situation is obviously causing tension between the Council and the Nairn Angling Association. She told the meeting that she thought that the Council (as trustees of the Common Good) had not been well represented by the Angling Association. To this those from the Angling Association present robustly countered by saying that the Council hadn’t shown much interest up to now. Liz went on to say:

"I feel Nairn Angling Association have a right to be on the board as co-opted members in their own right as they pay 68% of the levies and do a terrific job maintaining the river banks, removing trees and catching crayfish and mink, but their attendance should not preclude Nairn Common Good from being active as proprietor members".

The Board seem willing to have the Council on board but the situation is further complicated by the fact that lower proprietors of the River elect other lower proprietors onto the board and upper proprietors likewise. The dividing line of the division between the lower and upper parts of the river Nairn is currently the A96 bridge. The Board wish to move that definition to the Howford Bridge to allow a better balance between upper and lower proprietors. Liz contended that there were presently no lower proprietors on the board anyway as the Common Good were the proprietors and not the Angling Association. It gets more complicated than that however, Liz went on to say that she thought it would not be possible for the board to move the division between upper and lower on the grounds of the minutiae of an Act of Parliament of 1863 and there would need to be Scottish Government approval. Lord Cawdor thanked Liz for her useful research and said that at the moment the moving of the line was a proposal. Yes, complicated indeed Gurnites, and all this at a time when the role of the River Boards is being reconsidered by the Scottish Government. 

There was more discussion of the topic of moving the upper and lower limit, membership for the Council etc, etc, but the meeting did get on to other important topics such as the health of the river, management of the ecology and invasive species, fish stocks and catches, a Bailiff’s report and even discussion of how more young people can be attracted to fishing. The Gurn hopes to return to some of that discussion when time permits – it was a fascinating insight and overview of what is happening on the River and environs. It is important that as citizens we show an interest too, after all we take the beauty of the river environment and its flora and fauna so much for granted. We should pay an interest in what those tasked with maintaining this ecology are doing and even, perhaps, ask ourselves what we could do to help them?

There’s a lot to be done but everyone is operating in a climate of austerity and like the elephant in the room the issue of the Common Good and money is simmering in the background and reverberating elsewhere now. Should the Council ever find some way to dispose of their obligation to pay the Common Good levy then it would probably destroy the Angling Association – a group that have the health and maintenance of the River Nairn at heart. They are part of the set-up, part of the background of the town and it would be a shame to see them vanish from the landscape. On the other hand things are tight and Liz and her colleagues would claim that the anglers are over-subsidised and they are obliged as Common Good Trustees to try and do something about it. The Council would obviously wish to do something else with that £9,000 if they could and their motivation will be to try and stop the levy from rising further. It is an unfortunate, intractable situation and its consequences now maybe more than slightly unpredictable in the coming years.


Anonymous said...

Liz and Co can't run the common good fund now she wants to run the fishing!

Anonymous said...

This IS the Common Good for ALL of the people of Nairn - and Liz is focused - as she always is - on getting the best deal for the people of Nairn.

Anonymous said...

Its a pity Liz didn't show the same zeal for the rent due to the Common Good by the caravan park.

There are few options available, the levy is due to the CG as proprietors - the CG have turned the management over to the AA so either the CG pay the levy or rent the beats to the AA inclusive of levy (which the AA could never afford. Or alternatively, keep the beats, pay the levy and allow every resident of Nairn to fish on the beats making the fishing for the common good of the people of Nairn!
As proprietors, there is no way out of the levy, the CG is stuck with it!

Anonymous said...

What is the best deal for Nairn Colin? This is a no win situation, either pay it or sell it!

Anonymous said...

is that paid out of the fund how much per head does that work out at for fishing

something fishy said...

What a mess! This shows up, yet again, the embarrassing position the Highland Council has got itself into, and the conflict of interest between their role as the local authority and their responsibility as trustees of Nairn's Common Good.

The full facts about how the current financial arrangements between Common Good, Angling Association and Fisheries Board came into being have still not been made public. Lord Cawdor was right to say that Councillors should feel uncomfortable. Our Councillors should come clean.

It appears that the Council handed over to the Angling Association the "rights" to administer and collect the modest amounts paid by fishermen in licence-fees, while leaving the Common Good Fund to pay the annual levy (currently £9000) to the Fishery Board.

What kind of sensible management of an asset is that? In effect it means that Nairn's Common Good is having to pay out £9000 each year to subsidise a limited number of local anglers, and is getting little if any revenue from the fishing.

Our Councillors have got themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. They seem to have committed the CG to massive expenditure to cover the annual fishing levy, thereby draining down CG funds (which are supposed to be for the benefit of the whole of Nairn); but if they now look to recover the full cost of the levy via the fishing-licence fees, the anglers will complain!

Looked at alongside the failure of the Council to manage and review the caravan site rental as prescribed by the lease, and the resulting huge loss of income to the CG Fund, the people of Nairn should be asking their Councillors for some serious explanation.

Liz MacDonald is among those responsible for the present shambles over the Common Good. Having her take up a seat on the Fisheries Board is not the solution, nor even a particularly reassuring step.

Graisg said...

To be fair to our present set of Councillors anon I would draw your attention to a comment made by Liz in June of last year re the angling fees" "And it was all stitched up in District Council days and it is very disheartening"

Anonymous said...

Something fishy at 10.12
As the esteemed Gurn says - this was back in the day of the District Council.
It might "convenient" for you to blame Highland Council or the current 4 Councillors - but the reality is it 4 of us trying hard to sort a range of issues left over from previous Council administrations - every one of which was independent rather than political.
The angling might have been some kind of a "stitch-up" but was more likely naivety back in the day.
There is no easy way to resolve this issue - but Liz has our full support to make sure that for the first time in a long time the Common Good's role a proprietor is placed centre stage.

something fishy said...

to Graisg@6.40am and Colin@6.01pm.

It may be true that the unsatisfactory "stitch-up" was originally agreed by the old District Council years ago. But that is no excuse.

The CG Fund accounts are prepared, and should be scrutinised, every year. So past and present Councillors have had many opportunities to look at and query the arrangements. Funny how none did so until prompted by recent public criticism. Still, better late than never, and we have to hope that the efforts to which Colin refers will result in greater accountability - not only over the fishing levy, but also the caravan park rent and the management of other CG assets.

It's said that "sunlight is the best disinfectant". Yet even now, neither the Highland Council nor the Local Area Committee seem willing to publish the full Common Good Fund accounts so that the people of Nairn can scrutinise the detailed figures.

Only when there is full transparency will there be proper administration. Let's have no more "oversights", no more naivety, and no more stitch-ups behind closed doors.