East Lothian Council’s charity oversight faces auditors scrutiny

Friday June 9th 2023

Mussellburgh East Lothian

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

Trustees of a charity set up to help the poor have been warned they are at risk of failing to meet their responsibilities over its ‘lack of charitable activity’.

The Dr Bruce Fund, which was set up more than 200 years ago to help the poor in Musselburgh, is overseen by East Lothian Council with ward councillors appointed as trustees.

But a report by Audit Scotland, who have criticised the council in the past for failing to promote the charity effectively, says it is still not operating the way it should.

And they have announced plans to look into the progress of a review which the local authority first said it would carry out into all of the trusts in its care five years ago.

The Dr Bruce Fund itself has an estimated £20,000 in the bank but between 2016 and 2021 it made only small awards to the same two individuals each year.

Last year Audit Scotland said the fund had paid out a total of £50 in 2016/17 going up to £60 the next two years and £70 the last two years.

And they said the 2021 grants which totalled £70 to the two individuals was were returned after the cheques were not cashed.

A report due to go to the council’s audit and governance committee next week setting out plans for the last financial year’s external audit says focus will again be on the fund and the wider review.

It says: “The previously reported lack of charitable activity by the Dr Bruce Fund continues into 2022/23.

“There is a risk that the charity is not fulfilling its charitable objectives and that the trustees are not properly discharging their responsibilities.”

The Dr Bruce Fund is audited annually by the financial watchdog because it is a registered charity where members of East Lothian Council are sole trustees.

The fund was established by Charles Key Bruce, who studied in Musselburgh before making his fortune in East India. When he died he bequeathed £2000 to a permanent fund from which the interest was to be used to give poor relief to people in the town.

At its height it was widely used in the town and was mentioned during 19th century hearings into the Poor Law in Scotland.

In 2018 the council announced plans to review all 46 trusts it oversees with an estimated assets of over £3.5million, however to date no actions have been made public.

Last year the council said it had appointed a staff member to progress the review and anticipated recommendations being brought forward this year in response to Audit Scotland’s call for action.

Now the financial body says it will include the review in this year’s audit saying: “We will review progress of the planned review of trusts (covering Dr Bruce and other trusts which are not registered charities) which was set out as an improvement action in the 2021/22 annual audit report action plan.”

Tweet Share on Facebook  

Subscribe to the Midlothian View newsletter

Support Midlothian View from as little as £1. It only takes a minute. Thank you.

Comments are closed.


Midlothian View Advertising