A city’s rich heritage is at risk as a result of poor accounting

Letters; Thursday, 3 February 2011

It seems Glasgow City Council and its Aleo, or arms-length company, Glasgow Life have been a mite careless with stewardship of the city’s moveable heritage (“Hundreds of items lost from Glasgow museums” The Herald, February 2).

Disturbing as it is to misplace the odd tramcar, this admission pales into insignificance compared with the loss from the common good assets register of whole buildings and pieces of ancient land – Kelvin Hall, Peoples’ Palace, Glasgow Green and Balloch Park for example. All of these and many more properties and moveables, including at least some of the missing artefacts, were given to the people of Glasgow and recorded as common good until as recently as the 1970s. The income from this bounty should have swelled the common good fund and been used to finance community projects. The fund stands at about £13 million instead of an estimated £100m, the balance not having been properly accounted for, assets having been liquidated and the cash having been spent by the city for purposes not specified in the deed of gift.

Unfortunately Glasgow City Council continues to ignore a 2007 instruction from the then Scottish Executive to produce an up-to-date asset register. How much of our heritage do we have to lose before Glasgow’s accounting and inventory policies are properly scrutinised?

Bill Fraser, Glasgow.

Recent evidence of disappearing paintings and artefacts from Glasgow museums in the care of Glasgow Life illustrates a problem with the authority of our Scottish Parliament.

Three petitions of 2005-2006 led the local government and transport committee to receive the support of the then Scottish Executive through letters to council chief executives and finance directors, stating clear guidelines on safeguarding the historic Scottish Common Good – heritable, moveable, finance assets.

Quoting Audit Scotland, the letters state: “Councils are responsible for common good funds within their area and for ensuring that common good assets are properly recorded and insured … To discharge their stewardship responsibilities, councils need to maintain accurate asset registers which identify common good assets as such, distinct from the general body of assets under council control.”

The letter was received by Glasgow City Council before the establishment of Glasgow Culture and Sport on May 31, 2007.

Had elected councillors, each a trustee of the City of Common Good, been attentive to this letter, they would have worked collectively to protect and enhance all aspects of the city’s common good.

With valuable museum collections items and donated, irreplaceable, mechanical items going missing, there is a danger that future benefactors will be discouraged from giving, especially to the common good.

Records exist in burgh archives, and in the Register of Scotland, so it may fall on Community Councils to provide the foot soldiers in research.

The Scottish Parliament needs to close emerging loopholes by legally enforcing the current guidelines to maintain accurate assets registers.

This can be achieved if MSPs ensure, within the Public Records (Scotland) 2010 Bill, in discussion in the Scottish Parliament, that all local authorities will be obliged to produce and implement a records management plan (RMP) initially for approval to the keeper of the Records of Scotland, which covers the records it creates and holds, including all Common Good assets.

M E Mackenzie, Peebles.

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