£90,000 Fort James fund still untouched

editorial image

Over a decade after it was set up, a trust fund intended to help the young people of Larne has still not been put to good use.

In July. 2002 the Fort James company, which operated the town’s former paper mill and recycling plant on the site of what is now Laharna Retail Park, donated a £70,000 cash gift to the people of the borough.

Larne Council was entrusted with administering the fund, which was deposited in a bank account and – with interest – is now worth over £90,000.

But the local authority has failed time and again to come to an agreement over how the money should be spent.

And chief executive Geraldine McGahey has urged elected representatives to come to an arrangement regarding the trust fund before the reshuffle of local government in 2015, which will see Larne Council merge with its counterparts in Ballymena and Carrickfergus.

Mrs McGahey warned members at the latest meeting of the policy and resources committee that if the cash was not spent before the new super council is established, it could be open to challenge on the basis of equality.

She added: “The new council may find it difficult to restrict this fund to young people in the Larne area.”

Mrs McGahey added that when the fund had been handed over to the council, “nothing was put in writing” by the Fort James company to detail how the money should be used.

Councillor Drew Niblock enquired if the local authority has asked for any expressions of interest from community groups regarding the fund.

The chief executive replied: “The council previously considered the option for groups to be given access to the money. The fundamental flaw is that not every child has access to community groups, and there is the potential to disadvantage those children.”

Cllr Niblock felt members should take a more “hands on” approach and proposed that a steering group be set up, consisting of councillors and council officers, to come up with recommendations on how the money could be best utilised.

Mrs McGahey said she was “more than happy” for members to form a steering group to “bounce ideas around”.

It was agreed the steering group should be made up of two members from each district electoral area, to ensure representation from across the borough.

The group will consist of Cllr James McKeown, Cllr Maureen Morrow, Ald Jack McKee, Cllr Drew Niblock, Cllr John Mathews and Cllr Gregg McKeen.