On 19 February, the Chief Executive of Scottish Land and Estates (the body representing 1351 landowners owning 29% of Scotland) wrote the following in his weekly newsletter to SLE members.

Mr McAdam’s grievance stemmed from the fact that the Scottish Government had not consulted him over the contents of a letter written on 15 February to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee. It is not entirely clear why he should have been consulted. As far as I am aware the Scottish Trades Union Congress was not consulted either. Reading the letter, it appears to be well informed and draws on a range of evidence.

No matter.

On 18 February, Commonspace ran a story on the letter outlining how shooting estates were paying wages below the national minimum wage and citing a report that Dr Ruth Tingay and I had written last October in which we had first made this claim. This report, The Intensification of Grouse Moor Management in Scotland, was referenced once more in Mr McAdam’s newsletter as a “poorly researched report”.

The figures we used in the report were straightforward. In 2011/12, grouse shooting generated 2460 full time equivalent jobs (i.e. taking account of part time and seasonal employment) with a wage bill of £30.1 million. We made the simple observation that this equated to an average FTE wage of £11,401 which was below the national minimum wage in 2011/12.

This claim was attacked by Tim Baynes from the Gift of Grouse Campaign and Scottish Moorland Group (part of SLE) as well as cited by Mr McAdam as evidence of a “poorly researched report”.

In that context it is worth putting on the record that the figure was derived from a Scottish Moorland and Grouse Management Factsheet published in July 2013.

And who was the author and publisher of this factsheet?  None other than Scottish Land and Estates and Scottish Moorland Forum although I have yet to see Mr Baynes or McAdam describe their paper as “poorly researched”.

This episode highlighted the fact that the Gift of Grouse campaign is a well financed operation producing blogs, videos and reports in an attempt to persuade politicians and policy makers that driven grouse shooting is a benign undertaking. A good example was the contrasting way in which the campaign responded to two reports about birds.

The first report, “81 and Flying” was a report prepared by the Gift of Grouse Campaign/Scottish Moorland Group and launched in the Scottish Parliament at a reception hosted by Graeme Dey MSP on 23 November 2015.

When I asked Mr Baynes for a copy of the report, I was told that the report had been “posted” here. Unfortunately this page has since been deleted. But it contained merely a blog post with a summary of the findings of the report.

These findings have been questioned by experts (see latter part of this post on the excellent Raptor Persecution Scotland blog for example) but requests to publish the report by a number of interested parties have all been denied.

 

Fortunately, we know that the report was published. Copies can be seen in the photograph of the launch above. But unless the “report” is published it is impossible to know what to make of the claims made during a prestigious Scottish Parliamentary launch (accompanied by extensive press coverage). When will this report be published?

In contrast to this non-existent report making claims that are not open to scrutiny but yet were felt to warrant an expensive public relations event, another report a few weeks ago received a rather different treatment.

A scientific study of the breeding status of hen harriers in North East Scotland published in a peer reviewed journal was published in the February 2016 edition of British Birds. (1)

It documents the decline in the population of hen harriers in North East Scotland and attributes the main cause to illegal persecution and grouse moor management. A summary of the findings have been published on the RPS website here.

The Gift of Grouse campaign didn’t host a Parliamentary Reception or provide goodie bags or make a video about this scientific, peer-reviewed paper. Instead, it and Scottish Land and Estates published an angry denunciation of the “deeply flawed” report which, Mr Baynes asserted, showed a “lamentable lack of evidence.”

These claims were comprehensively demolished in a further blog by RPS here which includes a transcript of a twitter conversation with Mr McAdam in which he continues to challenge the idea that the peer-reviewed scientific article has any validity.

I had the good fortune to sit at dinner on Friday evening in the company of a number of the paper’s authors. As someone who knows very little about hen harriers or the scientific study of bird populations, I was deeply impressed to learn of their lifelong work in this field of study and the bemusement at the reaction their peer-reviewed paper had generated.

So, the next time you read a press release or a blog from the Gift of Grouse/Scottish Moorland Forum/Scottish Land and Estates that makes claims about other people’s research, probe a little deeper into the matter. And if they make claims about their own reports, you should pehaps check to see if it even exists in the first place.

NOTES

(1) Rebecca, G., Cosnette, B., Craib, J., Duncan, A., Etheridge, B., Francis, I., Hardey, J., Pout, A., and Steele, L. (2016) The past, current and potential status of breeding Hen Harriers in North-east Scotland. British Birds 109: 77– 95

In this Guest Blog, Bill Chisholm reveals the extraordinary story of how one former burgh in the Borders has outperformed all the rest in terms of its common good funds. That burgh is Berwick and it is now, of course, part of England.

Bill Chisholm was The Scotsman’s Borders correspondent from 1969 to 2005. He has taken a keen interest in the fate of the eight common good funds in the Borders burghs.

Scotland’s oldest and wealthiest burgh is thriving (in England)

Bill Chisholm 20 August 2013

Scotland has a very long history of community ownership of land and assets dating back to the founding of the Royal Burghs. The common good consisted originally of common land and grants of land by Royal Charter. Later in the 19th and 20th centuries additional land was acquired from neighbouring landowners and gifts of land were made by wealthy industrialists to form some of the famous parks in our towns and cities. In addition, a wide range of furnishings, paintings, regalia and other moveable property accumulated as part of the assets of the Common Good Fund.

The Common Good Act of 1491 remains on the statute book and states that the common good of all the Royal Burghs be observed and kept for the common good of the town and spent on the common and necessary things of the burgh.

Over hundreds of years, Scotland’s common good has been subject to poor management primarily due to the rampant municipal corruption and nepotism that prevailed as a consequence of town councils being responsible for electing their successors – a state of affairs that continued until the Burgh Reform Act of 1833. Genuine “local government” in Scotland was eventually abolished in Scotland in 1930 (parish councils) and 1975 (town councils) and responsibility for managing the common good passed first to District Councils in 1975 and then to the existing local authorities in 1996.

Scottish Borders Common Good Funds

Many people who take an interest in the status and performance of Scottish Borders Council Common Good Funds find it difficult to understand why an organisation with significant  land, investments and other assets consistently fails to achieve healthy annual profits. (1) This failure to secure a worthwhile financial return from the potentially lucrative commons means residents in the eight former burghs where the Common Good survives are missing out on their rightful inheritance. I thought it was perhaps a good time to take look at what has happened to these funds and as I did so, I made a remarkable discovery.

The unaudited accounts (1.3Mb pdf here) of the Council for 2012/13 reveal that the eight funds (Duns, Galashiels, Hawick, Jedburgh, Kelso, Lauder, Peebles and Selkirk) have combined net assets of £9.8 million and generated a collective deficit of £90,000. Of the eight, only Duns (£2000) and Lauder (£95,000) generated a positive return. By way of comparison, were the funds to generate a rate of return of 5%, this figure should be £490,000.

Burgh Income Expenditure Surplus/Deficit Net assets
Duns 2000 5000 -3000 30,000
Galashiels 2000 0  2000 26,000
Hawick 112,000 154,000 -42,000 3,032,000
Jedburgh 28,000 76,000 -48,000 1,371,000
Kelso 5000 35,000 -30,000 950,000
Lauder 269,000 174,000  95,000 1,031,000
Peebles 67,000 73,000 -6000 1,063,000
Selkirk 72,000 130,000 -58,000 2,336,000
TOTAL 557,000 647,000 -90,000 9,83,9000
No figures are reported by Scottish Borders Council for Coldstream, Eyemouth, Innerleithen and Melrose.
Income, Expenditure & Assets for 8 Border burghs
Source: Unaudited accounts 2012/13

It should be borne in mind that the sizeable areas of land held by the Borders Common Good Funds are, when taken together, equal in acreage to some of the larger privately owned estates in the region. Hawick has over 800 acres of farm land plus an unspecified acreage for the golf course and woodlands, Selkirk’s three farms alone cover 1300 acres while Lauder Common, one of the largest in Scotland, extends to some 1700 acres. The overall total possibly exceeds 5,000 acres.

Unfortunately, despite previous promises and pledges, there is still no sign of a public asset register clearly setting out everything that is included in the eight funds. However in February 2013 the council did, in response to a Freedom of Information request, provide details of the fixed assets (buildings and properties) and moveable assets (e.g. provost’s chains) in each of the funds. Perhaps the most striking aspect of this revelation was the fact that many of the items listed have been given no book value whatsoever, including Selkirk Town Clock, a number of common good open spaces, fishing rights on the Tweed at Peebles, and virtually all of the moveable assets.

Given the dearth of public information concerning millions of pounds worth of land holdings, investments and buildings, and the lack of detail of the charges levied on the funds by council officials, it is difficult to pinpoint what has gone wrong. But it would certainly seem elected councillors have played their part in allowing the Common Good estate to decline. It seems clear that the administration and development of Common Good assets is nowhere near the top of SBC’s list of priorities. That means the true potential of the multi-million pound operation will never be realised even at a time of austerity when every last penny is vital in sustaining local economies. Just this week, it was revealed that the £2 million cash balance was to be transferred to a “private firm of global fund managers.”

A similar regrettable pattern of Common Good neglect appears to have been developing right across Scotland ever since the abolition of town councils in 1975. A 2009 account of Common Good Funds in Scotland included some 1,600 assets in 144 separate funds with a reported value of £2.5 billion. Yet at national level too these huge assets failed to break even on the income and expenditure front. The Scottish Government’s official financial statistics for local government in 2011/12 showed gross expenditure on Common Good Funds to be £13,696,000 as against income totalling £11,540,000. That equates to an operating loss of £2,156,000.

Would these valuable assets have been better looked after had they remained in local control over the past 38 years? it is impossible to say for sure but it is fascinating to look at what has happened in one instance where that has happened.

Scotland’s first burghs four burghs – Roxburgh, Berwick, Stirling and Edinburgh – were established in 1125.

Roxburgh now lies in ruins.

Stirling and Edinburgh’s common good funds are, in the words of Thomas Johnston, “mere miserable starved caricatures of their former greatness.”

But Berwick is interesting and it is possible to compare the performance and fortunes of the region’s funds with a nearby charitable trust which administers the Common lands presented to this former Scottish burgh more than 600 years ago.

Berwick-upon-Tweed

The burgesses of Berwick-on-Tweed together with their contemporaries in Peebles, Hawick, Selkirk and the other Borders burghs received their Common lands from the Scottish king at around the same time. Today, the acreage under the control of the Berwick-upon-Tweed Freemen Trustees (Charity Commission No. 222154) is 2250 acres.

From the accounts (which can easily be downloaded from the Charity Commission’s website), we can see that the capital value of the investments at March 2011 stood at £4.896 million, and the total funds stood at £17,927,611. That’s almost double the £9.8 million valuation of the combined eight Borders Common Good funds.

Total income for 2010/11 was £437,448 (2009/10 £411,678). Rents yielded £280,853 while investments brought in £147,676. The Trustees generated a 2.4% return on capital

At the same time, the total income of the combined eight Scottish Borders funds in 2012/13 was £557,000 while expenditure totalled £647,000 – a deficit of £90,000.

As stated earlier, the common lands at Berwick-upon-Tweed were transferred to the burgesses and freemen of the then Scottish Royal Burgh at around the same time as the lands which now form part of the eight Borders common good funds.

The 3,280 acres of Common conveyed by a special Berwick Royal Charter of 1604 following the Union of the Crowns was vested with the freemen of the now English borough in perpetuity, although the acreage had gone down to 2,250 by the early years of the 20th century, thanks in part to the involvement of the town council which took control of the lands in 1843. The 1604 Charter had “granted to the burgesses the fee simple of certain lands over which the inhabitants had for centuries previously exercised rights of Common, grazing and other rights”.

But the introduction of statutory local government did nothing for the fortunes of the Berwick estate. The first elected town council melted down all of Berwick’s historic collection of silver, including the town mace…a sign of things to come.

During the 19th century the council often failed to pay the income from the estate to the freemen; financial accounts were not made available for public inspection; the town council attempted to alter some of the farm leases, and even leased farmland without advertising the leases.

By 1909 income was reduced and by now the local authority was spending all of the money it collected from the estate on council matters. The history of the estate also records that in 1916 the council wanted to lease the town’s ancient market rights to themselves at a rent of £5 per annum although the annual profit to the estate was £150. Such was the scale of council mismanagement that the estate fell into debt and by the 1950s the financial position was so dire one of the farms had to be sold for £9,000.

The local authority and the freemen were engaged in numerous legal disputes in the 20 years up to 1994 as the Borough Council attempted to plunder estate assets and proposed radical increases in annual administration fees from £5,000 to £18,000. Since 1994 the freemen Trustees and the Borough Council and Town Council have worked well together and as a result the estate has flourished. (2)

The retiring and new Town Mayor of Berwick-upon-Tweed. Note the “Scottish”purple ceremonial robes dating back to granting of Royal Charter by David I in contrast to English red robes.
© 
All rights reserved by Berwick-upon-Tweed Town Council

Map of Town Council of Berwick-upon-Tweed which includes the 2250 acres of land owned by the Freemen Trustees.

Concluding thoughts

What is fascinating about the above is the fact that one of Scotland’s oldest burghs survives today with a self-governing town council, £17 million of assets and an annual income of £437,000. At the same time, eight neighbouring burghs have half the assets and lost money last year.

The difference between this successful and relatively prosperous burgh (or borough) and the burghs of the Scottish Borders is that Berwick-upon-Tweed is in England. That simple fact raises all sorts of interesting questions about how local democracy and the commons have survived on both sides of the border.

So, perhaps as the Scottish Government holds one of its summer cabinets in Hawick, it might reflect on 900 years of Scottish history and ponder how to rebuild democracy in Scotland’s communities.

(1) All 8 Scottish Borders Common Good Funds are administered collectively as a charity No. SC031538

(2) Following the abolition of the Borough Council in 2009, a new Town Council was established.

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Rootes Factory in Linwood that made the Hillman Imp. To accomodate the workforce, the small industrial village of Linwood was expanded and the first “Regional Shopping Centre” in Scotland was opened in the town centre.

Land in Linwood had been acquired for development in 1930 by the Parish Council of Kilbarchan. But with the new factory, a major expansion was required. So in 1965, land for the new Regional Shopping Centre was assembled by the County Council of Renfrew under the Linwood Compulsory Order 1965. In 1967 this land was leased by the County Council of the County of Renfrew to a company called City Wall Properties (Scotland) Ltd. for development as a shopping centre on a 125 year lease (expiring in 2092). For twenty years, Linwood, its residents and its shopping centre thrived.

Then, in 1981, the car plant closed its doors with the loss of 6000 direct jobs and a further 7000 in the wider economy. The community entered a period of catastrophic decline with families leaving and emigrating.

Bathgate no more, Linwood no more
Methil no more, Irvine no more
Bathgate no more, Linwood no more
Methil no more, Irvine no more

Linwood was immortalised by the Proclaimers in Letter from America, their 1987 ballad of emigration and economic decline.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yy9GmieAEaQ

As the Daily Record reported on 14 April 2013 in the wake of the death of Margaret Thatcher

Mary Bowman, 63, moved to Linwood 40 years ago and watched as the town went from boom to bust.

“People just left,” she said. “They closed two primary schools because the population dwindled away. The town had 30 shops.

“We had a Woolworths, two bakers, a cafe, video shops, a supermarket as well as Clydesdale Electrical and an advice centre. The place was buzzing and you didn’t even need to leave Linwood for anything. There was even a Chinese and an Indian restaurant – places you could sit down in – not takeaways.

The town centre struggled on in the the midst of the economic ravages of the Thatcher years but somehow survived. By the end of the nineties, however, it was a mere shadow of its former self although the leaseholder, Ellison & Company from County Durham had attracted tenants for almost every unit in the centre.

And then a strange thing happened.

A new company, Balmore Properties Ltd. acquired the lease in 2001 for £1.7 million. In the six short years that followed, as the Scotsman reported in 2010,

“.. community leaders and retailers claimed that dozens of shops were closed as Balmore evicted tenants for minor misdemeanours and refused shopkeepers’ requests to have their leases extended. The precinct became blighted with derelict shops and graffiti-covered walls and plagued by antisocial behaviour from local gangs.”

The chemist and the optician opted to relocate to portacabins.

Balmore Properties Ltd. was incorporated in September 2000 and by 2006 was under the control of a sole Director, Dallas Peter Rhodes who owned the full paid-up capital of the company – 2 shares worth £1 each. By 2006, residents were fed up and the local MSP, Wendy Alexander, organised a petition to “Boot out Balmore”. A total of 3100 people signed the petition – full half of the town’s residents.

By early 2007, Alexander and the residents appeared to have succeeded. Tesco were interested in taking over the development and as a report in the Herald on 3 February 2007 noted with some surprise, when Nick Gellatly, Tesco’s Head of Corporate Affairs, visited the town the day before he was greeted with tumultuous applause by residents. He talked about putting a “new beat in the heart of Linwood” and building a new superstore together with a library, clinic and community centre. In July 2007, Tesco Stores Ltd. took over the lease from Balmore Properties at no cost “for certain good and onerous causes” – a transfer for no consideration where there is an unspecified obligation to do so. (Title here and plan here)

But nobody in Linwood was aware of that. Tesco had come to town and was rescuing their shopping centre from the blight of Balmore. Locals worked enthusiastically with Tesco to develop their plans. Some even appeared in their promotional videos.

Then in 2010, the folk of Linwood discovered the truth about what had been going on. Dallas Rhodes’ company Balmore Properties was not an independent retail property company.

It was set up as a front on behalf of Tesco.

Rhodes was approached by Tesco to acquire the lease on the company’s behalf. “It is common for Tesco to use and agent and secure land,” a spokesperson for Tesco said at the time. “Balmore was an agent for Tesco at that time.”

Some commercial property sources will happily claim that this is normal practice, that if owners get wind that a major supermarket chain is sniffing around, the value of the property will double or triple. Fair enough. But if that was the case, Tesco should have revealed its hand in 2001 or 2002. It didn’t. Instead the tenants were driven out and the community was left with a town centre that, later in 2011 would earn them the Carbuncle of the Year award.

Dallas Rhodes is and has been a Director of a number of other companies. One of them is Whitecastle Properties Ltd., a company wholly owned by Tesco Stores Ltd again with a paid up share capital of two £1 shares and with Tesco executives as Directors. Rhodes was a Director of this company from 2003 until 2008. The net assets of the company as at February 2012 came to a total of £236.

But unlike Balmore Properties Ltd. which never submitted any annual accounts because it enjoyed an exemption as a small company, Whitecastle does submit accounts and thus has to state its purpose. Its 2012 accounts admit that the Company’s principal purpose is “to act as an agent for Tesco”.

Tesco town is now well underway and developments can be followed at its website.

In the 50 years since the opening of the Hillman Imp plant, Linwood has enjoyed great hopes with the car industry, rapid and brutal decline and, finally, a takeover by a corporate retailer that dishonestly appeared as a knight in shining armour to rescue the townsfolk from their fate.

What Linwood has not had, until the establishment of the Linwood Community Development Trust, has been any proper understanding, control or influence over how their town is governed. The work of the Trust has been inspirational as highlighted by this short film made as part of Oxfam Scotland and the Scottish Wave of Change project.

It is no substitute, however, for the return of real political and economic power to people. And that is the challenge for all of Scotland’s towns.

OTHER LINKS

Linwood in Scottish Screen Archive