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Nairn West and Suburban Community Council challenges Highland Council to probe play park finances

By Donald Wilson

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The splash pad was funded by the Team Hamish appeal.
The splash pad was funded by the Team Hamish appeal.

Highland Council chief executive Donna Manson has been challenged by community councillors in Nairn over what they believe is double charging for running the links leisure park and the paddling pool – now the Team Hamish splash pad.

In a letter to the top council official, interim chairman of Nairn West and Suburban Community Council, Dr Alastair Noble, is also asking why the Nairn Common Good Fund is being charged tens of thousands of pounds for ground maintenance of Common Good open spaces.

The community council’s investigation suggested Highland Council is paying High Life Highland (HLH) for running the pool and leisure park and then the Common Good Fund is being charged again for the same services.

A Freedom of Information request to Highland Council has indicated that charges for grass cutting of Common Good spaces in Nairn in 2020/21 totalled £40,855.

It is understood no other Common Good Funds in the Highlands have been charged for similar services.

It is the latest twist in a saga with the community council claiming Nairn is not getting its fair share of council spending and money being syphoned out of the Common Good.

At a recent meeting of the community council, Highland councillor Peter Saggers produced figures on council spending on play areas supporting the claims.

A major addition to Nairn’s amenities has been the splash pad.

The capital cost of that project was wholly funded by the Team Hamish appeal, set up in 2017 following the death of eight-year-old Hamish Hey, and the Nairn Common Good Fund.

And now the council has stated the cost of running the facility – £15,000 per annum – will come from the Common Good Fund.

In his letter to the chief executive, Dr Noble said since 2011 HLH had been responsible for managing and administering a range of services on behalf of Highland Council.

Among the facilities managed and administered by the organisation is the park and paddling pool (now splash pad). The obligation is that HLH should manage the facility and deploy staff resources such that it operates for 49 hours per week throughout the tourist season.

Dr Noble added: “HLH is therefore being paid a fee by Highland Council under a contract to deliver this public service on behalf of the council. We note however from the council’s own accounting records that the Nairn Common Good Fund has been charged directly – against invoices from HLH – for this very service at least since 2013/14.

“This evidence indicates that HLH have been annually charging the Nairn Common Good Fund in respect of fees for a service which is already paid for by Highland Council through a service delivery contract.”

He went on: “Where HLH provides services on the council’s behalf, it is reasonable that the council should pay HLH a fee for doing so.

“It is not appropriate that the council should then seek to recover from the Nairn Common Good Fund any part of that fee. Nor is it appropriate that HLH should invoice the Nairn Common Good Fund for fees in respect of services already covered and paid for under a contract, since that would in effect be double-charging.”

Dr Noble said the situation was of concern, calling for an investigation into charging, accounting and payment arrangements.

A Highland Council spokesman said: “HLH has a long-standing role in supporting the Nairn Common Good Fund in bringing benefit to the people of Nairn by facilitating the provision of the paddling pool.

“Payments have been made to HLH in this regard appropriately to date.

“Additional responsibilities associated with the operation of the exciting new splash pad have been reflected within new arrangements which have been agreed through the Nairnshire area committee.

“The contracted charge between the council and HLH referred to, covers agreed services HLH provide to the council and therefore additional services delivered by HLH for any of the Common Good Funds are charged separately to these Common Good Funds.”

A HLH spokesman said: “We are pleased to support the Nairn Common Good Fund by operating Nairn Splash Pad on its behalf.

“While we receive funding from the council under a management agreement, this is not to operate the splash pad – the provision is funded directly by the Common Good Fund. This is a long-standing funding arrangement.”

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