Scottish museums warned of Common Good “administrative burden”

Legal obligations would demand significant research, says Museums Galleries Scotland
Jonathan Knott
The Scottish government may have underestimated the administrative burden that having to register property held for the common good could place on museums, Museums Galleries Scotland (MGS) has warned.

Common Good property consists of assets held by local authorities that were managed by former burghs in Scotland on behalf of their residents, before the burghs were abolished in the 1970s. It can include land, buildings, moveable items such as art, and cash funds.

Scotland’s 2015 Community Empowerment Act requires the country’s local authorities to establish registers of Common Good property, and consult with community councils and community bodies when they want to dispose of or change the use of these assets. The Scottish government is currently consulting on draft guidance that would set out how local authorities can fulfil these obligations.

A blog post on the MGS website says: “MGS supports the move for greater transparency of objects and artefacts held in the Common Good. This could strengthen communities’ understanding of their heritage and how it is preserved and used. However, MGS has concerns that the draft guidance underestimates the potential administrative burden on service providers, especially as budgets remain constrained.”

The blog said that in order to create a register of Common Good property, museums would first have to find out what items from their collections might form part of the Common Good. “This will involve significant research, perhaps involving Common Good reports, acts of parliament, charters, titles, improvement schemes, council minutes, files, other historical records and case law,” it explained.

The organisation said that it had been assured by the Scottish Government that the register would be a live document that could be gradually added to by museums.

“There is no expectation that entire collections will be added in one go,” said the blog. “Instead, councils will be able to review an item’s provenance at a sensible point. This might be when it is added to an exhibition, or removed for care and conservation. However, they will also have to record all representations made from individuals or the community regarding specific items.”

MGS said that it would submit evidence to the consultation “to ensure the obligations on local authorities are clear and common sense”.

It added that researching collections to identify Common Good property may create opportunities to positively engage with communities, saying: “It will be a chance for communities to rediscover local heritage and find new ways of celebrating the common good.”

The consultation closes on 29 September. 

Links and downloads

Community Empowerment and Common Good Property: Consultation on Draft Guidance (pdf)

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