Monday, 25 April 2011
A New Charity
Coldside Library, Dundee (pictured), with its long single storey curved frontage and elaborate ends - which still today remind me of bookends - is where I discovered my love for books. To a young child it was an imposing building designed in 1904 by the City Architect of the time James Thomson. He thought that neo-classicism was the correct style to maintain civic dignity and he had particularly idealistic views about leaving beautifully planned cities for future generations. Such a shame his successors weren't of like minds, but that's another story.
I can recall my first visit in the 50s. My father suggested I may like to go with him on his fortnightly visit and I jumped at the opportunity, because I was also told I just may be able to borrow a book if I behaved. In those days children didn't have library tickets and books had to be borrowed on a parent's ticket.
En route my father must have told me several times that I should not say one word while we were in the building or we would be asked to leave. The place sounded like something between a school classroom and prison but I was still anxious to see inside. The interior was breathtaking; what seemed miles of shelves decorated the walls with the exception of a corner which was equipped with what appeared to be back to back rows of school desks on stilts. Running down the middle of the desks were lamps from which light arched precisely to the lower edges of the desks. Only later did I discover this was the 'reading section' where the public came to read newspapers and an international selection of professional journals.
For years I used this library and became a trusted book borrower; so much so that I was able to visit unaccompanied by a parent, although I had to produce one of their cards.
However, much as I treasure these nostalgic memories, there are changes afoot to libraries and other public buildings in Dundee. The city burghers are to set up a charity, to be named Leisure & Culture Dundee, to take them over. The plan is to go before councillors next week and if the go-ahead is given, and I'm told it's already rubber stamped, the Office for the Scottish Charity (OSCR) will be asked to confirm the proposals.
Some of my Dundonian friends suspect this new charity is purely another quango and abuses the term charity, because all funding will come from public funds. It would seem the main difference between it (the Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisations) and non-incorporate charities is that it is a legal form which offers some protection to charity trustees from personal liability.
My gripe is the use of the word 'charity' in connection with taxpayer-funded public services. I consider charity to mean a particular type of voluntary organisation which has a distinctive legal form and a special tax status. This new charity doesn't meet that definition so I expect it can be added to the list of Fake Charities. There must be some benefit to local authorities but I haven't found out what it is as yet. Only time will tell, but the burghers should be aware that Dundonians will be keeping a close eye on this development to ensure it involves no extra outlay.
Glasgow 'out sourced' their public services a few years ago. It hasn't been much of a success. I wish Dundee would explain why they're doing something similar but under a new label.