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Edinburgh Live
Edinburgh Live
Marie Sharp

East Lothian charity fund to help the poor gave just £70 to two people last year

A charitable fund set up to help the poor in Musselburgh paid out grants worth just £70 last year to only two people - which was refunded after the cheques were not cashed.

The Dr Bruce Fund was established nearly 200 years ago to help the poorest residents of Musselburgh and has over £20,000 in the bank.

Despite this East Lothian Council, who oversee the fund, have come under fire from financial watchdogs for failing to promote it effectively.

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In the last five years a report from Audit Scotland says the fund which was "set up to provide relief for the poor of Musselburgh" has made small awards to the same two individual each year.

In 2016/17 the total amount was just £50, going up to £60 the next two years and £70 the last two years. However the accounts filed by the fund for last year revealed that the £70 paid out to the two individuals was returned after the cheques were not cashed.

Audit Scotland has repeatedly asked the council to take action to improve the work of the fund and in 2018 the local authority 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.

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.

This year's audit report says: "There is a lack of grants being awarded by the fund each year and trustees are not meeting regularly to progress the aims of the fund.

"A consequence of the lack of capacity in key functions has meant that this area, and overall review of trusts in the council, has had to be deprioritised while the council continues to operate in business continuity mode.

"There continues to be a risk that the Dr Bruce Fund is not operating effectively to meet its objectives and that the trustees are not discharging their duties correctly.

"This is an issue that has been raised in previous years and is included again under ‘follow up of prior year recommendations."

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.

The Dr Bruce Fund is overseen by trustees made up of the four elected ward councillors for Musselburgh.

In its recommendation Audit Scotland says: "The council and the Dr Bruce Fund Trustees should work together to ensure the fund is being actively managed and used for the purposes intended."

And it says of the review of all trusts: "This should include a review of the method(s) used to promote the Dr Bruce Fund and other charitable trusts to ensure that the potential availability of these funds is known to
the wider community."

An East Lothian Council spokesperson said: “While the team remains in business continuity, a staff member is now in place to progress this review and it is anticipated that recommendations will be brought forward during 2023.

"Operation of the Dr Bruce Fund will be within the scope of the wider review, with a view to maintaining promotion and distribution of funds in line with the intended process.”


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