13 January 2015
There is currently open a Consultation by the Scottish Government in connection with land reform. While this may not be immediately thought to be of interest to charities (other than charities specifically formed for community purposes) there are provisions in the Consultation which could affect all charities.
One of the proposals is that the trustees of a charity should be required to engage with the local community before taking a decision on the management, use or transfer of the land under the charities control. This is a very wide suggestion and could have major consequences for charities. While it might well be appropriate in the case of some charities which are formed for local community purposes or those who own vast tracts of land, it does seem to introduce a new dimension into the decision making process for other charities which may be formed for other purposes. In some cases it is obviously sensible to engage with the local community particularly where there are planning applications and other developments taking place. A body like the National Trust if it was contemplating selling one of its major landholdings might well consider it appropriate to engage with the local community before making a final decision on a sale. One can also easily see that where a large country property which might have been used as a headquarters for a charity subsequently has its use changed to a hostel could cause concern for the local community. However we would have thought that that probably would be best dealt with through the planning process.
There will of course be other situations where this proposal would also apply to properties, for instance, charity shops in the High Street. If this provision in its current form was to be adopted there clearly would be another level of bureaucracy.
We also consider there could be difficulties in many cases in defining what the community actually was.
Charities are established for particular purposes. We think it is important that they are focused on these purposes. Funds are given for the purposes for which they are set up and it does seem to us to be confusing matters if another specific duty is imposed on trustees requiring them to engage with the local community on these matters. How does one balance up using the funds for the charitable purposes for which they were given, e.g. health or education, with satisfying the local community for their particular aspirations.
We are sure that responsible trustees will take account of local opinion but we question whether it is appropriate that there should be a statutory duty to do so.
If you are interested to responding to the Consultation it is open until 10 February 2015. The Consultation documentation is available at:-
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