When I became Chair of Lochgelly Community Council 4 months ago, I hoped to encourage the Community Council to engage more with the community so it could better respond to its needs. There have been some terrific steps in the right direction – for example, the Hilton consultation, engagement at the Lochgelly Gala, distribution of the lightbulbs, monitoring and reporting improvements within the town and core paths, etc. All this has been helped by an influx of very welcome new blood in the form of George Elder, James Arnott, and Carol Mackie supporting the work and building upon the work of some of our long term Community Councillors.
Transparency and accountability are absolutely vital to improving engagement. Over the summer, the Secretary George Elder and I have been trying to find out what has been going on at two key bodies associated with LCC and responsible for substantial community funding – the 4 Winds Trust and the Public Park Improvement Group, which is a sub-committee of LCC. Members of LCC involved with these bodies have not co-operated with us. No minutes of meetings or accounts have been forthcoming. Both LCC and the community continue to be left in the dark about how these bodies make decisions and spend money.
A Freedom of Information request to Fife Council revealed the existence of a hithertoo undeclared bank account in the name of the Public Park Improvement Group. According to the FOI request, a bank account had been established by March 2015 and is expected to receive £98,000 from s75 monies, £48,000 from Ore Valley Housing Association, and £88,000 currently being held by the Corrie Centre.
Inquiries to OSCR, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, revealed that the 4 Winds Trust, a registered charity, was currently subject to two investigations by the regulator. These pertain to statutory failures by the Trust to submit annual accounts, hold annual members’ meetings and keep OSCR notified of changes in office-bearers. Having seen the Trust’s constitution, it also appears that meetings may not have been quorate when decisions, including the award of grants, have been made.
It was my aim to raise issues arising from the secrecy and inadequate governance of the 4 Winds Trust and the Public Park Improvement Group at the last LCC meeting, but the majority of LCC members in attendance refused to extend the meeting or arrange an extra one to enable these issues to be raised and a proper discussion to take place. Nevertheless Mr Murray, who chairs the Public Park Improvement Group and the 4 Winds Trust, attempted to push through a motion to remove its status as a sub-committee of LCC and make it completely autonomous. This would of course remove its operations once and for all from public scrutiny.
Since then I have sought advice from Fife Council’s Democratic Services Department, and I met with a senior manager last week. I have asked Fife Council to oversee an investigation of the operation of the Public Park Improvement Group to date, with full public disclosure of all minutes, financial transactions and emails.
At the very end of the LCC meeting on the 9th September, the Secretary insisted on reporting why he had been forced to abandon its online poll to guage residents’ views on the name of the public park. This, the first public engagement to take place about the park, had been hijacked by a few individuals who logged multiple votes.
The Secretary was very concerned that this manipulation was by a Community Councillor, and the Secretary has now tendered his resignation from the community council, and I have been informed of other resignations pending, as it has become impossible to work with Mr Murray or those members on the LCC who refuse to support the drive for greater transparency and accountability.
I can no longer be associated with the Community Council, and I am now resigning as Chair and Community Councilor.