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Concern over Comrie Development Trust
Community Buy Out continues
Filed 12 Sep 07
The sequence of events leading up to Comrie Development
Trust (CDT) being successful in its bid to buy the decommissioned
Army Camp at Cultybraggan on the outskirts of Comrie has previously
been documented on this website, as have concerns about the procedures
adopted along the way.
A letter expressing that concern was sent to the
local MSP, Roseanna Cunningham by a member of the CDT (1).
As the CDT Member was not satisfied with the MSP's
response (2), he has written the
following letter for the urgent attention of the Big Lottery Fund
For the urgent attention of Mr Dharmenda Kanani
cc Ms A Magee (Chair Scotland Committee)
Comrie Development Trust Grant approved 17th May 2007
Dear Mr Kanani
Further to my recent emails regarding this grant
award, please find attached a copy of a letter sent to me by Roseanna
Cunningham MSP. I will be replying to Ms Cunningham in the near
future, but felt it was essential to address as soon as possible
the matter of her interpretation of her discussions with you.
It would appear from her letter that she feels
utterly confident to speak on your behalf. I have to say that I
find this alarming. It was my understanding that the BIG Lottery
must remain independent of all political parties and their manifestos
and should award grants only on the basis of the stringent application
process. As you are no doubt aware, Ms Cunningham belongs to the
SNP and as such will be politically driven to achieve certain outcomes.
One of these outcomes will be to increase the very small number
of successful Community Buyouts since the Land Reform Act 2003 was
introduced. It is interesting to note that Ms Cunningham was herself
involved in writing the legislation, and it is therefore disappointing
to find, from reading her letter, that she has not in any real sense
understood my concern, but has simply rushed headlong into an assumption
that I wish to stymy the exercise. Nothing could be further from
It is my view, and I hope that you would also
wish to adopt/maintain this as best practice, that the best way
to increase uptake of Community Buyouts in Scotland is to provide
communities with a tool that allows them to rigorously assess the
feasibility of achieving their stated outcomes. The best way for
you to ensure this is to rigorously police and enforce the way in
which your not inconsiderable grants are spent.
By this I mean that if a CB has stated that the
Project name on the application form is "informing the decision
on Community Ownership" then your money should be spent on
informing the Community. If a CB states in its application that
" the project will result in the production of a full business
plan" then the Community, who are after all the same public
who contribute to the Lottery, should expect a full business plan
and you as the grant giver should expect this to happen. If your
guidance to CB's is "it is always best to be realistic and
honest with both funders and other people involved in a project"
you should not in any way condone your money being spent on anything
other than what was stated in the application form. If projects
start on this basis and if the application form is rigorously scrutinised
for compliance throughout the life of the grant award, then the
CB will become empowered to move forward with high levels of outcome
certainty and not as the CDT are about to, on a wing and a prayer.
Ms Cunningham's problem seems to rest with the
term "project". In her world "the Project" is
to get the land into Community ownership whatever the possible risk.
She is completely politically driven and is turning a blind eye
to the complete absence of any detailed risk assessment.
On a personal level, you may well, as she puts
it "remain very enthusiastic" about the concept of Community
Buyouts (as am I) but on a professional level working for the organisation
that you head, the term "project" must mean something
else entirely and I feel it is inappropriate for Ms Cunningham to
give us your personal view. You cannot remain enthusiastic about
the project because the " project" from the BIG Lottery
perspective (as laid out on the CDT application form), is finished
in terms of timing and completely unfinished in terms of meeting
If you have taken the time to read the application
form submitted by the CDT for the £178K, you will know that
your organisation's involvement with the project ended after 12
weeks (May to August) and that the project promised to result in
a detailed feasibility study capable of informing the residents
of Comrie as to whether it would be viable economically, environmentally
and sustainably to buy the Cultybraggan Camp. That is where your
organisations involvement in "the Project" starts and
ends. If it does not end at the purchase decision, then the grant
becomes operating capital. Just as you do not expect to have a say
in how the community views the findings of the study, you would
also not accept any responsibility or liability if a Community venture
is launched and then totally fails leaving large loans to be repaid.
The purpose of the " Project" from your perspective was
to enable the residents of Comrie to make a fully informed decision
on purchase of the Camp.This has simply not happened. The grant
money appears so far largely unspent, but we are told by HIE that
it will be used up post purchase on business modelling. The original
signed application and grant was not intended for "experimental"
or " business start up" purposes, and I would hazard a
guess that Lottery funding should not be used to assist in the marketing
of housing plots for private individuals to purchase.
As you are aware from earlier emails to you, the
only financial information presented to the residents was a worst
case scenario of selling 6-8 house plots for £75-£100k
each. No other financial information was presented. As a community
we have seen no financial evidence concerning environmental policy/costings
or joint venture revenue. We have simply been told that this will
all come together in the fullness of time provided the camp is bought.
The purchase is being financed by a loan from the Tudor Trust, which
normally caters for the needs of marginalised communities, not middle
class, affluent communities with apparently direct lines of influence
to the Scottish Government.
From her letter, Ms Cunningham seems to think
that I am the only person holding this view, this is not so, but
perhaps I was the only person who was naive enough to think that
she might act in the national interest in ensuring that the process
is conducted properly. Proper conduct is not an abstract concept
without consequences. A bankrupt scheme in year 3 risks disappointing
the whole community, putting tenants out of business, wasting substantial
public funds, and bringing the implementation of the Land Reform
Act into disrepute.
I remain confident that, whatever personal views
you have expressed to Ms Cunningham about Community Buyout, you
will act in a professional manner and not allow the remaining £160k
balance of your grant money to be squandered on an unevaluated prospectus.
I am still waiting for your response to my earlier emails and hope
will now realise the seriousness of this matter and respond as soon
possible. I remain open to holding a meeting with you to cover all
points in person.
Culloch School House
Phone: 01764 670001
Fax: 01764 679728
The response that will come in due course from
the Big Lottery Fund is awaited with interest.
1. Thomas, Ian (2007). Letter
of 16th August to Roseanna Cunningham Click
Here to View pdf
2. Cunningham, Roseanna (2007).
Letter of 7th September in response to letter from Ian Thomas Click
Here to View pdf