New life for £12m worth of historic Edinburgh bequests


By Michael MacLeod

THE CONTROL of £12 million in charity cash is to be offloaded by one of Scotland’s biggest councils.

A huge pool of money left in wills dating back to 1707 for causes including pensions for wartime raid survivors, kids’ Christmas treats and soup kitchens will be brought back to life by the move.

The 38 funds are currently managed by the City of Edinburgh Council, which wants an outside charity to take the strictly ring-fenced donations forward.

Many of the legacies have been paid out in part, while others have been sitting in council coffers accruing interest for literally hundreds of years.

Some of the bequests were set up under vague instructions – including a legacy left for the “deserving poor of Corstorphine.”

Another of the unpaid donations is a 1927 bequest from a late Mr William Ross of £1,000 asking the council to provide “a Christmas treat for poor children in Edinburgh.”


One of the funds even specifies that it should be used only for buying coats for pensioners and must never be handed out as cold hard cash.

At the other end of the scale, the assets also include the city’s huge £7.5m Trinity College Hospital Fund which provides pensions for older people.

Local government bosses hope new management will blow the dust off old funds, while adhering to the spirit of each donation’s original purpose, meaning large grants to other organisations are unlikely.

Of the few funds which are active, no changes can be made to any existing pensions.

At least two charities have already asked to take on the management of the 38 trusts, set up to help vulnerable people in the city.

Other willing charities are being invited to make their pitch for the massive task, with a full management handover pencilled in for March 2011.

It is expected to inject around an extra £50,000 a year into the capital’s voluntary work through smarter use of the trusts’ income and capital, as well as saving cash on administration costs.

“Difficult times”

The main aim of the take-over is for the donations to be used more efficiently according to Edinburgh’s pensions committee leader Tim Mckay.

He said: “We want to see the money used in the best possible way and charities are better placed than the council to do that.

“Simply by changing how the trusts are managed, there will be benefits to charities, the Council and those people in Edinburgh who need help.

“In these financially difficult times, that is good news for everyone.”

The deadline for applications for a share in the £12 million pot is 6 August, with charities being required to submit a written proposal to the council.

Bidding charities must do work in Edinburgh and it is expected that they will have an annual income of more than £75,000.

Director of public affairs for the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, John Downie, said: “This decision shows the council recognises that voluntary and community organisations are perfectly placed to make decisions about how money can be best used.”

Some of the grants include:

JT Neill Bequest
The former Edinburgh resident left $7,000 in 1879 to provide “a good dinner every New Years day” to the poor of the parish of North Leith.

Sir James Steel Trust
The former city provost oversaw Edinburgh’s 1900 tramway project and was earning £80,000 per year according to official records. He died in 1904 and left a trust fund for masons, joiners and other workmen connected with the building trade where the administrators felt it appropriate.

Mrs MJ Fleming Trust
This fund is distributed annually in the form of gifts such as coats, clothing or provisions – but never in cash.
The gifts usually go to six nominated residents in the Corstorphine area.

William Crambe Reid Bequest
He left a £1,000 will in 1931 “for coal and blankets for the poor” known as “cabmen’s shelter funds.”

James Neil Barclay Bequest
A fund of £1,000 was left in 1943 “for the relief of suffers through Air Raids.” But the council says it seems there was no recognised charity for this at the time, so the full amount remains unpaid.