£300,000,000 for the common good, probably more

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We were invited to attend a legal seminar this week, where the massed forces of four Advocates did their best to guide us at PD, plus a not-so-motley collection of legal types from councils and law firms, through Scotland’s system of common good property law.

Given the history and complexity, it was a pretty good summary. Common good funds arose out of ancient common grazings, got their own Common Good Act of parliament in 1491, survived the Act of Union in 1706 and are now a set of assets held by most Local Authorities in Scotland for the good of their residents eg local parks, buildings such as libraries and so on.

Individual property rights are so embedded in our society that this ancient concept of the common good could be seen as a little revolutionary today. There’s a potted history of Common Good Funds in Section 14 of the Land Reform Review Group’s final report from 2014 here.

Aside from an interesting history, why are we blogging about them today?

Firstly, it’s worth knowing what’s in the Common Good Fund in your local area (for example why see here). Common Good Funds have in many cases been neglected and records may be incomplete so it’s worth checking if you are interested in the local area. The current records for council with assets start at £19,000 in Midlothian to almost £74 million in Aberdeen (see table below).

Secondly, the law is about to change, for the better. The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 requires councils to create a common good register. They will have to ask community councils and others whether anything is missing from the list, and to then consult if councils want to sell, lease or change the use of anything on the list. Such consultation might have prevented this.

The Scottish Government are also in the process of drafting guidance on the “management and use of common good property”. Expect a consultation on this in the summer.

Resources

  • Andy Wightman has produced a 2009 guide to finding out about local common good assets.
  • Scottish Government updates on development of registers.
  • Andrew Ferguson’s Common Good Law was recommended at the seminar.
  • Land Reform Review Group’s final report linked to in the article has the table below. This is likely to be incomplete:


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1 Response

  1. billfra says:

    Good luck with this!

    In 2007 the Scottish Executive, through LASAAC, instructed local authorities to update Common Good registers. In reply to a request from the Petitions Committee (PE1050) in 2010 Audit Scotland stated that in their 2008-9 audits “Councils have generally taken reasonable steps to comply with the guidance”. With this assurance the Petitions Committee concluded that “the Scottish Government, in light of this assessment, is satisfied that common good sites are as protected as they can be and sees no need for new legislation in respect of common good assets. Further, Audit Scotland will continue to monitor progress made by local authorities as part of the annual audit process…”. Audit Scotland has since confirmed in late-2010 that they had no plans in the current work programme to look at this again.”

    As you say the Glasgow Common Good Fund’s value in 2009-10 was £13.5 million. However in 1921 the City Chamberlain valued the Fund at £9.9 million, the equivalent today of about £350 million. Where did the money go? For example, Glasgow Corporation Transport was funded by the CGF but somehow the money never survived Strathclyde Regional Council. Many other assets disappeared into the council’s general revenue account.

    If this new audit is to be accurate archives must be properly researched

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