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CHARLES BANNERMAN: Benefits aplenty if use of Inverness Common Good Fund was different

By Charles Bannerman

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Inverness Leisure is among the facilities run by High Life Highland, mentioned by Charles Bannerman (inset).
Inverness Leisure is among the facilities run by High Life Highland, mentioned by Charles Bannerman (inset).

Forget Kevin, we need to talk about the Inverness Common Good Fund (CGF).

This city is fortunate to possess vast public assets whose revenues are, or should be, dedicated to the common good of the local people, and amid current acute financial stringency these must urgently be deployed as meaningfully as possible. In particular CGF revenues, with a little imagination, need to be used to mitigate the current extreme squeeze on local government funding.

The Inverness CGF is plundered far too often as a cash cow for nutty notions, vanity projects and demonstrable trivia. That now painfully familiar litany begins with new robes for the Provost and fairy lights for the town house... oh and has anyone noticed the ghastly green mould that’s already proliferating on that monstrosity down by the river?

But with some imagination the fund can be used to stunning effect, although it’s ironic that one prime example occurred purely by accident and total mismanagement.

Early in 1996 it was becoming clear that the outgoing Inverness District Council had made a complete pig’s ear of implementing its last big decision, to award the fledgling Caley Thistle a £900,000 revenue grant. Disgraceful political wrangling involving councillors and officials rendered it impossible for the council to pay up before it went out of existence that April.

So, faced with legal action by the club, in stepped the new Highland Council’s chief executive designate Arthur McCourt who arranged for the cash to come from the CGF. The upshot was the vital road link from the Longman right through to the harbour which brings radical benefit to the entire city.

We need more lateral thinking like this, and let me fly just one kite to demonstrate. I can think of few better instances of common good than the work of High Life Highland (HLH) – an organisation at arm’s length from, but part funded by, the council, that provides a wide range of vital sporting, leisure and cultural services.

However, like much else, its budget has taken a hammering and severe service cuts are inevitable. A strange legal discrimination forbids charging for library services but not sports facilities, resulting in sports charges rising by nine per cent partly to cross-subsidise libraries.

So why not declare HLH a “common good” and, subject to benefits being restricted to Inverness as its rules require, give HLH money from the CGF? This could be partly offset by a modest cut in HLH’s direct council funding, so both HLH and council services – to which that could be reallocated – would benefit.

It seems to be very poorly understood that starving HLH of funds is a very false economy, since its activities create much larger savings in other public service areas such as the NHS.

CGF revenues must no longer be squandered on inane trivia and it’s high time that its trustees, who also happen to be our local councillors, thought a bit more laterally and deployed this wonderful asset towards the genuine common good in a way that might ease the council’s financial stringency.

However, open minds on the part of councillors and officials alike about finding means and tweaking rules would be a vital pre-requisite, rather than adopting the Sir Humphrey position of seeking any and every loophole, obstruction and excuse to avoid action.

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