Chapter 6: Reflection on how the Trust has failed Carnegie and the people
From riches to rags.
Most of us start out in life with very little and if we work hard in our lifetime—and overcome the hard times such as loss of job, bad investments, or other misfortunes—we will be fortunate enough to earn ourselves the rewards of a house, a car or in some other way better our lot. The Trust is the opposite of this. Starting off with great wealth the Trust was able to stave off the effects of the Great Depression, Stock Market Crash and two World Wars only to plummet into penury in the boom years of the late 60’s early 70’s.
Was Carnegie stingy with his townsfolk?
On 4th September 2006 during the petition campaign opposing commercial development of the Glen, the Chairman of the Trust, Angus Hogg stated, in a press release widely published, “Anyone who believes that a legacy made more than 100 years ago could sustain the park forever is clearly mistaken”. This remark suggests that Andrew Carnegie was mistaken in thinking that he had left adequate funds to last 100 years or more, and because of this it was reasonable for the Trust to take extraordinary measures (such as the commercial development of parts of the Glen) to replenish the coffers.
I agree with a previous Chairman, William Dick who in 1953 described Carnegie’s “generous gift” as a “lavish benefaction” and would argue that Andrew Carnegie was a most able judge in monetary matters and he of all people fully understood the investment markets as being a perfect vehicle to fund (from the dividends from investments) the charities he set up to do good works and dispense charity. Mr Hogg appears to be at odds with Carnegie on the adequacy of the legacy left to finance the Dunfermline & Hero Fund Trust’s aims. That the legacy left by Carnegie was adequate for over 70 years is self-evident, as is the failure of the Trust to honour its obligations regarding the Glen since 1975. The reason why this is so, is certainly open to debate and is not as black and white as Mr Hogg would have us believe.
Carnegie’s ghost in the Abbey churchyard.
William Hershaw, a local poet was commissioned by a dance group to compose a poem to mark the 900th Anniversary of Saint Margaret. Hershaw composed a piece called “Voices 900″ which imagined a conversation with famous ghosts from Dunfermline’s past in the Abbey graveyard. The poem was withdrawn because of objections made by the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust to references in the poem about Andrew Carnegie and the trustees. To develop Hershaw’s theme it might be interesting to imagine Angus Hogg, who is the Session Clerk at Dunfermline Abbey meeting with the ghost of Andrew Carnegie in the Abbey graveyard one moonlight night. What criticism of the adequacy of the Dunfermline & Hero Fund Trust endowment would Angus Hogg level at Andrew Carnegie? And what response would Mr Hogg get from the greatest philanthropist the world has ever known?
Perhaps something like this might have been heard:
Hogg: I say Carnegie old chap dont you think you were a bit light on the funds? $4 million in your days is only worth somewhere in the region of $240 million today, and it’s difficult to spin this out, what with the markets being fickle and all. You do know about the markets don’t you Andrew?
Carnegie: F#8’**#d !!%#***k**##!!, and explodes in a puff of smoke.
What was Carnegie thinking of?
Carnegie found that having a certain amount of money in investments on the stock market and bonds brought its own problems. He tried dispensing his money through various gifts, mostly in the USA, but also here to the Dunfermline, UK, Universities, and Hero Fund Trusts. However, as hard as he tried his wealth remained the same, as it continued to increase in value from profits at a greater rate than he dispensed it. To solve the problem of his money growing faster than he could give it away, Carnegie gave all his remaining wealth to the Carnegie Corporation of New York in 1911.
Other Carnegie Trusts prosper 100 years on.
I was interested to know if other Carnegie foundations have prospered over the years, so I e-mailed the Carnegie Corporation of New York to ask how much they were left by Carnegie (there are conflicting reports on the amount), how much they are now worth, and how much they dispense in charity annually? The answers are interesting but at odds with Angus Hogg’s financial world view. The New York Corporation stated that they had started with $135 million in 1911 and this had now grown to $2.2 billion. Their donations or grants to various bodies totalled $80million during the fiscal year 2005-2006.
From zero for the German Hero to zero hero medals for the Dunfermline Hero Fund.
From the above it would appear that the New York Corporation is doing rather nicely, but are they unique. I e-mailed the German Hero Fund which has recently reformed after being dormant since the second world-war when Hitler’s Nazi regime confiscated their funds and they seemed quite optimistic despite the fact that “we started with zero”. The German Hero Fund Trust Chairman’s optimism is surprisingly refreshing–when one considers his funds were wiped out and his country recently bombed to ruins—and is in stark contrast to the pessimism of our Trust boss Hogg who wails that we are all doomed due to the “economic time bomb ticking under the Glen”.
The German Hero Fund sought help from other Hero Funds including the Dunfermline in their resurrection from the ashes, but apart from a donation from the Swiss Fund the other Hero Funds could not help, and the German Hero Fund had to seek help from the Carnegie Corporation of New York to allow it to reform and continue as before. And continue it has, awarding three medals for heroism in 2006. The Dunfermline Hero Fund Trust in this period awarded zero medals.
Trust has failed but how and when?
We will never be able to say with certainty what cause the dramatic fall in the Trust’s fortunes but it is possible to trace when this took place, and illustrate with some examples how the Trust has fallen—if not answer the question why they fell/failed.
Property, the Gala, and the Tiffany window.
Perhaps the three most graphic examples of how the Trust has failed the people of Dunfermline are their dealings in property, the annual Children’s Gala, and the Tiffany window. I have set out these issues in order below:
Example 1, Property
: In 1953 the Trust owned over 500 acres of land including:
The 70-acre Glen.
2 playing fields, Venturefair, 8 acres and Pitreavie, 44 acres.
3 golf courses, Pitreavie, Canmore, and Pitfirrane 120 acres.
6 bowling clubs with greens at Townhill; Baldridgeburn; Kingseat; Nethertown; Rosyth, and Headwell.
6 Institutes were built at the same locations as the bowling greens, plus another one the “Women’s” in Pilmuir Street (now Johnson’s Night Club).
As well as these prestigious properties the Trust also had a wide variety of properties such as the Pitfirrane House; Carnegie Hall; British Legion Club; Lauder Technical College (now Skibo Court), “Balleira” (now Dunfermline Museum Viewfield Square); Ling House, Canmore Street; Carnegie Centre, Pilmuir Street; Carnegie Clinic, Pilmuir Street, and Viewfield Manse (now accountant’s offices Viewfield Square); to name but some.
Secrecy is the norm for the Trust when questions are asked.
What does the Trust own now? Good question to ask, but the Trust will not tell anyone who asks, or at least they will not tell me. I have politely asked in connection with the accounts of 2005 which show that the Trust had sold-off half of their heritable assets (buildings). The Trust simply will not identify the individual buildings that they have sold or the price received. Instead the accounts at page 14 simply give a sum of £450,000 representing the money received for the sale of “Investment heritable property”.
The refusal of the Trust to clearly identify the nature of their transactions on their accounts is not only breathtakingly arrogant but it appears that their actions are possibly in ignorance of, and certainly at odds with, the terms of the original trust deed, which is part of the Royal Charter.
Trust should be open and transparent but are the opposite.
Andrew Carnegie demanded absolute openness and transparency in accountancy. The terms of the Royal Charter state that an abstract of the accounts: “as audited shall be published for the information of the public in one or more newspapers of Dunfermline and also that a full Report of their proceedings be made and so published.” This provision taken with the instruction to the trustees by Carnegie that “as it is the masses that you are to benefit, it follows you have to keep in touch with them and must carry them with you” is the very antithesis of the secretive practices of the Trust.
The Trust may be satisfying the very minimum requirements of the law by publishing their accounts in the terse format in which they do, but their paucity of detail is at odds with the wishes of the founder—wishes that were followed to the letter by previous trustees.
Trust had more openness 100 years ago than now.
Most commentators would have us believe that democracy is an ever improving process and the rights of the citizens of Dunfermline would—it could reasonably be expected—improve accordingly. Wrong! When in 2006 I asked for and was refused—by Angus Hogg, Chairman of the Trustees—specific details of the sale of the properties which are only obliquely alluded to in the 2005 accounts, I asked him to reconsider his refusal and sent him copies of the accounts as published in 1918, and 1928. I did this for a good reason as these accounts contained very detailed descriptions and values of all properties owned, leased-out, bought and sold. But what was good enough for the citizen of Dunfermline in 1918 is a step too far for secretive trustees of the present day. Mr Hogg refused to provide details of the 2005 property sales.
Sherlock Holmes type investigation to see what happened to our property.
Faced with the absolute intransigence of the Trust I have resorted to searching the Registers of Scotland to ascertain what was sold in 2005 and in other years and my findings are troubling. It is possible, though time consuming, to establish that X was sold to Y for £#000 on a certain date. What is of more concern is the, sometimes low, price the properties were sold for. Of course there might be a perfectly logical explanation for these “knock down sales” if the seller were flush with funds, but this would appear not to be the case in this instance. I will have more to say about this topic in later updates but would pose the question: why was it necessary for me to have to resort to detective work to find out what was sold, to whom, and for how much?
The property portfolio has vanished and we are left with the rump.
So of the 500 acres of land and numerous buildings owned by the Trust in 1953 there remain only a few small houses and the 70-acre Glen. Andrew Carnegie did of course say that when “municipalities etc” and the Trust will no doubt argue that this is what they have done—handed over assets such as Pitreavie Playing Fields to the Council, which in the years after Carnegie’s death did indeed assume responsibility for leisure and recreation of the people.
The tangled tale of Pitreavie.
However if we take Pitreavie Playing Fields as an example of what has been handed on to the local authority it does not bode well for the people of Dunfermline in future years.
The 42-acre site of Pitreavie Playing Fields complete with stadium, pavilion etc was gifted to Fife County Council on very specific terms designed to ensure that the Trust’s charter obligation that the facility be to the benefit of the people of Dunfermline be protected. The Trust had a right of reversion if these terms of the gift were not met.
In September 2001 Fife Council leased the Pitreavie Playing Fields for 60-years to Vida Sports, a company belonging to Carnegie Sport & Hospitality Ltd, part of the Murray International Group. The site was leased for a “peppercorn rent” of £10,000 a year or £238 per acre per annum. In August 2002 the Trust granted a Minute of Waiver which apparently transferred the right of reversion to Fife Council.
Despite its long-term legal commitment, two years later Vida Sports—which had another dozen long term leases with similar playing fields owned by other councils—sold out for £30 million to a management buy-out financed by a subsidiary of Guernsey based venture capitalists Alchemy Partners in 2003. The management buy-out was not successful and in 2005 Vida was put into administration and the playing fields lease has since been assigned to “Powerleague Fives Ltd” in May 2005, who in turn assigned the lease to “Dunfermline Athletic FC Ltd.” in September 2006, since when the lease has been sub let to “The Pars Trust”.
I was concerned that what started out, and for 40-years under the Trust was a facility for the benefit of the people of Dunfermline, is being used as a cash-cow and being sold on with alarming regularity. It must be the case that at some stage in the future there is a possibility that the ownership of what was once a public asset and arguably a common good asset will be lost in the mist of time and the fog of changing stewardship. I can also envisage a company running the playing fields pleading poverty and trying to develop a part of the facility, in much the same way that the Trust have tried to do with the Glen.
Calls for reassurances on Pitreavie fall on deaf ears.
I raised my concerns regarding the status of Pitreavie with the Fife Council and I also raised my concerns with the Trust that Fife Council might be in breach of the terms of the Trust’s gift which could trigger reversion of ownership to the Trust. I was given a convoluted answer as might be expected from Fife Council’s lawyers but was also given a less than reassuring answer from the Trust’s CEO who in answer to my concerns about Pitreavie being taken out of public ownership simply stated that she was concerned about this too, as she is not sure of where the Trust stand in what is a very complex matter! Hardly reassuring and surely not what Carnegie had in mind.
Getting information from the Trust is like wrestling smoke.
At an early stage in my involvement with the Trust I asked to sit in as an observer at their meetings and/or have sight of the minutes of these meetings. These requests were refused by the Trust. Angus Hogg does not hide the fact that he considers consultation with the public a nuisance. Mr Hogg has stated on more than one occasion that the Trust have conducted their business successfully, and in private for more than 100-years, and will continue to do so. If the former were true then the latter might be acceptable, but when it is self-evident that the trust has failed Carnegie and the people, they cannot expect privacy in their dealing especially since the ratepayer is keeping them afloat.
Hard questions must be asked about the Trust’s dealings (especially with regard to disposals of property) even if the answers to the questions are the non-answers that are the stock in trade of the Trust. The obfuscation and delay by the Trust in dealing with genuine enquiries from members of the public must be recorder for future reference.
Time for the Trust to come clean on properties.
The Trust has certainly not safeguarded the public’s access to those amenities that were handed over to the municipality (Dunfermline, Burgh, Fife District then Fife Council) in accordance with the founder’s wishes. Many of the jewels in the Trust’s crown appear to be remote from the ordinary citizen of Dunfermline. Golf Courses such as Pitfirrane, which the Trust had on feu-lease, but which now apparently belongs to the Trustees of the Golf Club; playing fields like Pitreavie and Venturefair and sites of bowling clubs and institutes have ownership that is less than clear. Is this how Carnegie saw the people’s assets being stewarded? I think not and I think that it is time for the Trust to explain their actions instead of hiding behind a set of meaningless figures in an Annual Report which is little less than a blanket of secrecy.
- Example 2 the annual children’s Gala:
The Children’s Gala was of prime importance to Carnegie.
The first children’s Gala was held in the Glen in 1904. It was the idea of Mrs Louise Carnegie who paid for it. The first Chairman of the Trust, Dr John Ross spoke to the first meeting of the trustees the following week in glowing praise of the Gala. Dr Ross said: “The experience of Friday last when all the children of the town through the kindness of Mrs Carnegie, enjoyed a holiday fraught with unalloyed pleasure, suggests the propriety of making such a holiday an annual occurrence. It seemed an excellent institution for creating local patriotism and generating fond associations for the youths referred to by the Truster, who may subsequently roam in other lands.” Andrew Carnegie in 1915 writing his autobiography stated how this “yearly gala day” was evidence that “no public park was ever dearer to the people”.
This annual event was organised, funded and celebrated by the Trust for many years after Carnegie wrote those words. In 1952 the Trust considered the children’s Gala Day so important that it spent almost £1300 on it (£29,614 in today’s terms). This was quite a sum considering that the total annual charitable grants made for that year amounted to £1,395. So the children’s Gala was considered to be as important as all of the other grants put together for that year, and represented a sum that was more than 10% of the total cost of the upkeep of the Glen (£12,592).
Trust signals a change in priorities with the Gala.
In 1965, 50-years after Carnegie wrote the above words in his biography the Trust stated via the Dunfermline Press that times were hard and they would not continue to fund the Gala over the amount that it cost in that year (£1,000). In a classical piece of revisionism to meet their own agenda the Trust decided that the Gala “was no longer the out-standing attraction to primary school children that it used to be”, and consequently the Trust would be “taking a very much diminished responsibility for its future organisation”.
Forty-two years on the Gala is as popular as ever with the children, and one marvels at how out-of-touch the trustees were in 1965. The Trust in their wisdom had decided that primary-school children no longer enjoy the simple pleasures of marching with their flags to the Glen to enjoy a day of play with their friends. In determining what the children of the 60’s liked or otherwise, the trustees of the day displayed breathtaking arrogance, and their judgement was patently flawed, but are the present-day members of the Trust any more attuned to the needs of the people? When one considers the Gala it would appear not. The Trust now has no organisational responsibility for the ever-popular event and contributes various amounts annually but normally in the region of £2,000. The bulk of the funds now come from sponsors, how long before a McDonald’s Gala.
Time to get back to basics?
The contribution that the Trust makes to the Gala is a small one when considering what it can afford to give to other more exclusive organisations and events. £10,000 for the Dunfermline Lawn Tennis and Bridge Club, £27,000 towards the Carnegie Medal for Philanthropy reception at the Scottish Parliament, etc. etc. This to my mind is contrary to the charter that governs the Trust’s activities. It was made clear in the 1903 letter, the minute of the Inaugural meeting of the Trust, and other documentation that the first priorities for the trustees were the Glen and the Gala for the ordinary citizen. Now the Trust have abandoned the children’s Gala and the trustees are more likely to be found wooing the movers and shakers of the charity world than be seen in the company of Jock Tamson’s bairns in the Glen on Gala day.
Pandering to the elite was not on Carnegie’s radar and nor should it be on the Trust’s. It is time the Trust dispensed with their support of elite causes and got back to basics. Of course any move by members of the public to force the Trust to stick to the original terms of the charter, which stipulate that the Glen is the first priority, will now be faced with supplemental Royal Charter terms of 2006, which in effect have ditched all of Andrew Carnegie’s clearly expressed wishes!
Example 3 the Tiffany window:
The Tiffany window was left to the Trust by Andrew Carnegie, with instructions that it be placed in the Dunfermline Abbey as a memorial to his parents. H.M. Commission for Ancient Monuments however found the window—which was not overtly religious as was the fashion—unsuitable for placement in the Abbey and the window lay unused for some time before being installed in the Carnegie Hall which the Trust built and opened in 1937.
The Tiffany window was in the Carnegie Hall for many years and was in the hall when in 1963 it was gifted to the Burgh Council. In 1992 it was re-sited to form the centrepiece of the Tiffany Lounge in the Carnegie Hall, and as such was widely admired.
The Tiffany Lounge is currently undergoing restoration, and the window was removed for safety reasons. I recently made enquiries of the Fife council as to the omission of the Tiffany window from their list of common good assets. For once the response from the council was prompt and unambiguous and I was advised by a council lawyer, Andrew Ferguson that the window was indeed owned by the council and was part of a heritable asset. Mr Ferguson stated with regard to the window: “The Tiffany Window will form part of the heritable asset known as Carnegie Hall as it is part of the fabric of that asset.”
I enquired where I might view the window and on 18th September 2007, Fife Council’s Business Manager, in answer to my enquiry advised me that the window was undergoing restoration and she would check and get back to me. Then on 25th October 2007 Fife Council advised me that the window “is not owned by the Council, and appears to be owned by the Trust”. [emphasis added]
We want our window back for our new HQ.
The Trust in what can only be described as a piece of breathtaking arrogance and elitism are claiming legal ownership of a part of a gift that was made over 40 years ago. The window is indeed a unique piece of artwork, but how can it be right that for 70-years the window was placed in the public Carnegie Hall, but now that the Trust are having a private new HQ built in the Glen they want this exclusive artwork to adorn their building? In doing so the Trust will deprive the general public—who have enjoyed this artwork for 70 years—of sight of their much loved heirloom. Would Carnegie have approved of his elitist trustees?
To summarise I have given some examples of how the Trust has failed Carnegie and failed the people, the question now is what can be done about it?