Dundee City Council has been criticised by one of Scotland’s biggest trade unions and the Scottish Conservatives for using £5,500 of its Common Good Fund to pay for a portrait of the city’s Lord Provost.
The Common Good Fund makes approximately £100,000 available each year for one-off awards that “support the common good”, according to the council’s website. But data gained under freedom of information law shows that the council awarded itself money to fund a painting of current provost, Ian Borthwick.
The Ferret has also calculated that the Common Good Fund is worth 24 per cent less than it was ten years ago, after adjusting for inflation.
The GMB Scotland trade union said that the fund had been “raided” by the council, and suggested that this would be “insulting to the people of Dundee”.
The Tories said that Dundonians would be “furious” at revelations that the fund had been used to fund what is “most certainly not” a good cause.
Dundee City Council’s website says that constituted groups and local community groups, as well as third sector, public and private sector bodies are free to apply to the fund. Use of the fund must be “beneficial to the interests of the inhabitants”.
In 2018, £123,604 was paid out of the Common Good Fund. Projects that received the most funding included the HMS Unicorn planning and capacity building, which was given £15,000, and a ship model exhibit at the McManus art gallery and museum, which also received £15,000.
Kanzen Karate was awarded £20,000 to fund the 7th World Union of Karate-Do Federations championships, after being given £15,000 the previous year.
The portrait of the previous Lord Provost cost £3,000 and was funded by the Corporate Services Department budget rather than the Common Good Fund, according to the SNP-run local authority.
The Lord Provost is “the non-political civic figurehead of the city” usually elected every four years by council members. This is a position that “dates back to the 14th century”, according to the council.
The Lord Provost also acts as the Lord-Lieutenant of Dundee, which involves hosting “any visits by members of the royal family and events relating to the armed forces”. It also involves undertaking “a wide range of duties which include civic receptions” and “promoting Dundee’s reputation home and abroad”.
Current provost Ian Borthwick is a former Labour councillor who now sits as an independent in the city’s Strathmartine ward. The local authority says that Borthwick is Scotland’s longest serving councillor, having been first elected to Dundee Town Council in 1963.
According to The Courier, the SNP struck a coalition deal with Borthwick – after losing two seats and thereby their overall majority – which saw him become the city’s new Lord Provost in 2017. Funding for his portrait was secured in the Common Good Fund’s 2018-19 allocation of awards.
GMB Scotland organiser, Helen Meldrum, said that the Common Good Fund had been “raided to pay for a portrait of the Lord Provost”. This was “insulting to the people of Dundee,” she added.
“It shows a remarkable lack of self-awareness on the part of our representatives and council officials.”
More money going into local projects that help our communities would be more worthwhile in this climate than a pomp and ceremony painting. Helen Meldrum, GMB Scotland
The city had been “hammered by austerity over the last decade” and was “losing jobs in vital employers hand over fist,” Meldrum argued. “More money going into local projects that help our communities would be more worthwhile in this climate than a pomp and ceremony painting.”
She added: “It does make you wonder what scrutiny is being applied to these budgets when something of no community benefit or value is eating up a fund that’s already been depleted by inflation.”
The Scottish Conservatives suggested that common good funds could go towards a range of worthy causes. “A portrait of a councillor is most certainly not one of them,” said the party’s spokesman.
“People in Dundee will be furious about these revelations.”
A spokesperson for Dundee City Council highlighted that portraits of all the council’s former provosts are on display in the City Chambers, which is open to the public.
According to the local authority’s accounts, the city’s Common Good Fund was worth £3.34 million in 2008, increasing to £3.55 million by 2018. But after after adjusting for inflation, this is a 24 per cent decrease.
The council said that the fund’s income comes from “investments in bond schemes”, which could fluctuate each year leading to either a surplus or deficit. “Therefore because the dividend income is matched by expenditure each year then the total funds of the Common Good Fund do not always increase year on year,” added the spokesperson.
The Ferret has approached a representative of provost Ian Borthwick for comment.