Fife Council faces ombudsman threat over Burntisland funds

Empty power cable reels on the Links
Empty power cable reels on the Links

Burntisland Community Council has voted to take its concerns about Fife Council using £100,000 of the town’s Common Good Fund to replace a failing electricity supply on the Links to the Ombudsman.

The supply, which serves the caravans of the dozens of showmen who take over the Links for 12 weeks over the summer, was found to be in a dangerous state in an inspection three years ago.

Alex MacDonald, chairman of the community council

Alex MacDonald, chairman of the community council

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Community councillors argue that the electric supply is a commercial venture and that the work should have been funded from rental that Fife Council charges the showmen for the use of the community-owned land.

The council had asked the local authority to look for alternative sources of funding to pay for the work but says this was not done.

Instead Fife councillors decided that £100,000 of the £170,000 cost should be taken from the Common Good Fund, which is for projects which benefit the town.

At a meeting of Burntisland Community Council on Friday, 13 community councillors voted unanimously to refer the matter to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman if the council fails to repay “every penny”.

Alex MacDonald, chairman, said: “The community council has agreed unanimously to take action against Fife Council in order to recover the money which was wrongly taken from our Common Good Fund.

“Fife Council’s decision was not just ethically wrong or financially improper – it was legally wrong. In 40 years I have never seen any local authority make quite so many mistakes on a single issue.

“We will ask the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to investigate and to require Fife Council to take corrective action. However, there is a set process that we have to go through and we will follow that to the letter.

“We have lodged a formal complaint with Fife Council and the clock is now ticking. If this has not been resolved by Friday then we will ask the council to go to a second stage of investigation. That means its final reply will be in my hands not later than June 14 . If the money has still not been repaid, then our formal complaint will be in the hands of the Ombudsman the following Monday.

“In preparing our submission, the hardest part was deciding where to start. It’s been a catalogue of errors for at least the past three years. I recognise that councillors were faced with a difficult decision, but the information given to them by officials was hopelessly wrong.

“We will hold Fife Council to account for every penny of the money that has been wrongly taken from the Common Good Fund.”

Paul Vaughan, head of communities and neighbourhoods with Fife Council, said: “It’s disappointing that the community council has decided to take this action.

“We want to make sure the Burntisland summer fair continues in the town, bringing all the benefits it does to local people and visitors. The Common Good Fund was used to pay for a required repair to a Common Good asset and will ensure the fair continues for future generations.

“It’s important to reiterate that although the council receives rental income from the shows, this is used towards the maintenance of the Links.”