Saturday, December 20, 2014

Issues that haven’t gone away – 1 The Nairn Common Good Fund

Nairn Common Good Fund and its assets - they belong to Nairn but they are controlled by all 80 members of the Highland Council. They generally do what the four local members want but that process is not guaranteed, however we do now seem to be moving into a period of more effective management. Recently they paid up the £187,000 that the fund had lost over a considerable amount of time due to poor management so we could be entering a new era.

Despite this there is still a call from the usual suspects and others for reform and the subject has been a major topic at many community council meetings held in recent years. Cllr Michael Green has become the Community’s spokesperson for change and he also has a vision to turn the Common Good Fund into an engine room for further economic growth in the town – basically to do what it says on the tin and further the Common Good of the citizens of Nairn. 

Liz and Colin and their colleagues on the Area Committee point to the forthcoming “investment strategy” and whatever may be coming down the tracks in the form of the Scottish Government’s Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill which may have specific instructions on Common Good funds. There has been acknowledgement that the community should be consulted on this investment strategy – this would be useful, there will be people in Nairn with the ability and background to cast a critical eye on any investments proposed by the Highland Council. 

Gurnites may wish to read a recent letter from West Community Council to the Chief Executive of Highland Council which calls for reform of the Common Good Fund and details the missed opportunities in recent years where community involvement would have been useful. The letter is full of detail that will be useful to the many serious students of these matters.  Readers can see the letter here. 

To this observer it has been evident for many years that when it comes to galvanising the talents of those in the community who are willing to work for the common good then the Highland Council is not the ideal vehicle. The flow of power towards Inverness over the years would suggest that Highland Council remains a major obstacle to this community fighting its own corner in a rapidly changing world and now also in a landscape where austerity cuts will affect the most vulnerable in our society. So what else could we do if allowed to?

There have been two major opportunities in recent years that gave a chance for the community to take control, one has come and gone and another may be slipping away. There was the chance to create a single Community Council for Nairn a few years ago but although those that responded to a consultation were heavily in favour of such a move it was brushed aside by Highland Council on the grounds of low numbers. Such a Council – The Burgh of Nairn Community Council would have had the gravitas to claim control of the Common Good Fund and even perhaps the Courthouse and make it once again the seat of Nairnshire power and not of the ruling Inverness based administration. Not enough people jumped up and down and asked for a single CC at the time so we remain with three community councils (perhaps Nairn and Suburban will amalgamate soon though) with differing agendas. For anyone that still thinks that a single Community Council would be good for Nairn then this companion campaign site created by the Gurn in 2010 contains useful information. 

Another chance we still have but perhaps on a shoogly peg are the ambitions that came out of the 1,000 plus member community organisation NICE (Nairn Information Community Enterprise). Their desire to develop the old Social Work Buildings remains on the table but there is a school of thought that hope is fading fast there. The Chair of NICE Alastair Noble stated in his annual address to the organisation:

“Everywhere else in Scotland and elsewhere in Highland a Community Enterprise body with over 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.” Full NICE AGM report here

That is not an upbeat assessment of the state of play at all. Obviously more support is needed from the local authority. Perhaps NICE could have gone about it differently though? Maybe those 1,000 members could have been activated into workshops and sub groups that could have delivered small projects in the community. A thousand members will have all sorts of skills and abilities between them that could have galvanised others in the community to participate too. Has it all been a bit too top down? NICE is still there however and remains a potential vehicle for the kind of Common Good vision that Michael Green and others have and the success or failure of any initiatives for the Social Work building will determine whether NICE has a future or not. 

Time will tell but the prospects for Community engagement in the running of Nairn’s Common Good Fund still seem to be some way off and control rests firmly in the hands of Highland Council and as long as it remains like that dissent will continue.


Anonymous said...

When it comes to Nairn's Common Good fund we often gaze enviously towards Inverness, but why is it that that we fail to see the model that gives them a continuous stream of income, namely renting most of their CG land rather than selling it?

It seems we're desperate to sell the land at Sandown that'll create a one off pot of money. Do we really want to follow in the tracks of the Tory government and gain in the short term from our few assets?

Anonymous said...

Time to take the administration of the CG back under local Nairn control and not through all of the Highland Councillors!

Anonymous said...

I've always wondered how many of the 1000 NICE members actually have an IV12 postcode?