East Lothian Council ‘doesn’t have expertise’ to manage trust funds

Wednesday June 28th 2023


Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

A five year review of East Lothian Council’s management of trust funds with reserves of nearly £3 million has recommended bringing in an independent administrator after officers said they did not have the expertise to continue.

Council officers launched a review of how it administers 46 trust funds after repeated criticism from Audit Scotland over its stewardship of them.

And a report put before elected members this week revealed the outcome of the review was to recommend an outside expert is brought in to oversee the funds in future.

The report told councillors that the local authority “does not currently have sufficient in-house expertise to administer the trust funds, or capacity to prioritise this alongside other demands.”

And it said continuing to oversee the funds themselves would mean the council would need to take on extra staff or external sevices.

The council has repeatedly faced criticism from Audit Scotland over its handling of the trust funds in recent years.

The report told councillors Audit Scotland had noted : “There is a risk that trust funds held could become dormant due to lack of use and lack of wider knowledge in the community as to their existence.

“If charitable objectives are not being met, there is scope for OSCR to withdraw the charitable status of the funds.”

One of the biggest trust funds, the Richardson Bequest, is not included in the current proposals due to ongoing legal proceedings.

And officers said transfer of land or building assets would not be possible meaning a further three trust funds would need to remain under council stewardship.

However officers said: “The status quo is not considered to be a viable option and will not represent an adequate response to the Audit Scotland findings or enable the council to fulfil its responsibilities in relation to Trust Funds.

“The overall requirement is therefore to implement changes which will ensure the effective fulfilment of the trust funds’ objectives in a manner which
provides value for money for the trust funds, without the use of taxpayer

Councillors unanimously agreed council officers should continue working on a plan to bring in a third party administrator for the funds and investigating the best value for money options.

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