Centre for elderly ditched as row rages over £420k bequest

CONTROVERSIAL plans to use a £420,000 bequest to convert a substandard care home into a healthy living centre, complete with spa and gym, for pensioners in the Galashiels area have been ditched following a three-month public consultation, writes Andrew Keddie.

Scottish Borders Council will hear today there was “no clear consensus” for the proposal, developed late last year by senior social work officials following the death in May 2010 of former town clerk George Knox.

But neither, claims a report, was there conclusive support for the money to be given for dispersal to the Galashiels Local Relief Fund (GLRF) which Mr Knox served as secretary for many years after his retirement.

In his will, the philanthropic 93-year-old specified the cash, bequeathed to SBC or its successors, should be used “for the benefit of older people in the town through the GLRF or otherwise at the discretion of the council”.

That fund was set up in 1943 with a bequest of £50,000 from ex-Provost Robert Watson and has since disbursed the interest on its capital, currently £109,000, to the deserving elderly of the town, at the discretion of a six-strong executive committee. Its accounts are independently audited and submitted annually to SBC.

It also has a management group which includes the four elected Galashiels and District councillors and ex-SBC leader Drew Tulley, a longtime friend of Mr Knox and an executor of his will.

Back in February, shortly after the consultation began, Mr Tulley rubbished the healthy living centre venture – involving the conversion of a wing at the town’s Waverley Care Home in Elm Row, which no longer meets Care Commission standards, to provide facilities including a thermal health spa, gym, café area and an arts and crafts room.

Under the proposal, the centre would be run by a “provider” on behalf of SBC, with the bequest covering construction and running costs for 10 years, until it became self-supporting.

Mr Tulley claimed Mr Knox would not have wanted his legacy used to support the revenue spending of the council on “a half-baked scheme which is not targeted on the needy”.

He said the beneficiaries of the GLRF, which operated through other gifts and bequests, were people living only on a state pension who had been resident in the burgh for at least 10 years.

Mr Tulley said the GLRF was a “highly respected organisation which had helped the deserving elderly of the town in a quiet, dignified and discreet way” and that the earned interest from the Knox bequest would make a valuable contribution to alleviating hardship.

But today’s report, signed off by social work director Andrew Lowe, suggests the current GLRF set-up, along with its disbursal criteria, is an anachronism.

“The proposed way forward is to engage with the executive committee of the GLRF with a view to amending their constitution in a way that reflects the aspirations of older people in the Galashiels area,” states the report.

“The new constitution should draw not just on the experience of the existing group, but incorporate appropriate elected members, professionals and voluntary groups that could guide and inform decisions … it is hoped this would allow the GLRF to go forward into the 21st century with sustainable processes and procedures.

“The reconstituted group should engage grass roots organisations and decide on the most appropriate method for either investing or disbursing the money appropriately.

“In addition the new constitution should create conditions to encourage turnover of membership and office bearers, ensuring the committee reflects the aspirations of all older people in the Galashiels area.”

Mr Tulley said such a recommendation was a “total mishmash” which he hoped councillors would reject.

“This smacks of sour grapes because council officials now realise a daft scheme, out of kilter with the spirit of George’s bequest, is a non-starter.

“For more than 60 years, the GLRF has fully met its aspirations to serve the poor elderly in the burgh – not the wider Galashiels area – with never a question raised about how it was administered. The old adage that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it comes to mind.

“The simple solution is for SBC to invest the money, as it does with current GLRF capital, in a much more effective way than it has done with common good funds, thus boosting the interest revenue to be disbursed.”