Common Good fund ‘failings’ – Fife council’s external auditors…

FIFE COUNCIL’S external auditors have told the local authority it needs to improve the way it looks after the Common Good funds.

Scott Moncrieff state that it is not clear where specific responsibilities for administering the funds lie, there is poor information about moveable Common Good assets such as paintings and books, and there is a risk the funds do not receive rental income which is rightfully theirs.

“There appears to be significant variances in the level of rental income received from both council services and external organisations and inconsistencies as to whether the Common Good asset is on the Common Good asset register or the council asset register.

“We understand that many of the rental agreements have been inherited and not reviewed since local government reorganisation,” they say in a report to the council’s standards and audit committee.

The auditors have drawn up an action plan.

Neil Crooks, chairman of the standards and audit committee, said, “This is a very thorough piece of work that has been done by Scott Moncrieff. It has given us a very clear picture on the way forward for the council in its management of Common Good assets.

“I’m pleased to say that a number of the recommendations in the report are already in hand. The review of the council’s scheme of administration will clarify where responsibilities for Common Good lie and also widen them out.

“Our committee consider the area committees to be a key component in the process and there are obvious gaps in the Common Good register which will be addressed. Councillors will also be offered training on the definition of Common Good and stewardship of those funds.

“The council has already made great progress over the last few years by taking a proactive approach to creating a Common Good asset register and the development of a Fife Council policy on the security of moveable assets will now include Common Good artefacts.

“I think once the external auditor’s action plan is implemented, there will be a more robust management of these historical Common Good assets and it will ensure they are given a status equal to those of council assets.

“Local communities are very interested in these funds and would be concerned if they read the report.

“Members felt that a higher priority should be given to Common Good issues and hopefully this report will encourage buy-in from services who have perhaps not seen this as a priority before.

“We accept that it is a very complex issue, but there is a determination to iron out anomalies and record information in an open and transparent way.”

Michael Enston, the council’s executive director of performance and organisational support, said there was a risk to the council’s reputation if it failed to implement the proposed action plan, but warned that doing so would require further targeting of existing resources.

“Whilst the report recognises the ongoing work to regularise the council’s treatment of Common Good assets and the efforts made to produce a complete register, it identifies a number of areas for continuing improvement. These will be taken forward as resources allow. However, it is likely that further resources from various services will be required to be devoted to this area to complete the work timeously.”

Fife Courier

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