Freedom of Information (FoI) figures obtained by the Scottish Conservatives have shown that Scottish Borders Council (SBC) paid out almost £1million in compensation over the past five years.
The MSP who filed the FoI request, John Lamont, said the majority of claims were made due to surface defects on carriageways, with other claims ranging from incidents incurred while cutting grass or while there was insufficient supervision.
The MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, criticised the high figure, saying that much of this money should be being spent on improving local amenities and services.
Mr Lamont said: “This is a staggering figure. That Scottish Borders Council has spent nearly a million pounds on settling compensation claims will surprise many people and it is clear that this figure needs to be reduced.
“It is only right that when someone is injured or has their property damaged through no fault of their own, councils should pay up quickly and efficiently.
“However, we must also ensure that councils are given the appropriate legal support to ensure that they get a fair deal when any compensation is given.
“With council budgets having to be stretched further and further it is important that we spend money as wisely as we can. This is a significant amount of cash that could have been spent on improving the services and facilities in the Borders.”
He added: “Instead, Scottish Borders Council has had to invest a lot of time and money on these claims. Spending this amount of money is simply not sustainable and we need to see these claims start to reduce if we want to see the best use made of our council tax.”
Councillor Catriona Bhatia, depute leader of SBC, responded: “The new council administration takes this matter very seriously and will continue to invest in our roads network and other areas where litigation is a risk, to mitigate against claims.
“Like Mr Lamont, Scottish Borders Council would far rather that these sums of money are spent on local services, but we also have to comply with legal obligations in the same way any large organisation or government is required to do.”
A dispute arose from a second FoI request made by Mr Lamont, which he says shows more than £130,000 of funding given to SBC to fund green transport initiatives is still lying dormant in its bank accounts.
Mr Lamont said the SNP Government had given just over £300,000 to the Borders to subsidise green vehicles as part of its Low Carbon Support Scheme, yet the document reveals that only £168,000 of this money has been spent in the last two years.
The document, seen by TheSouthern, shows £168,000 was spent by SBC on nine electric vehicles: £71,790 on three Citroen Zero cars in 2010/11, followed by £96,406.23 on three Vauxhall Ampera cars and three Renault ZE vans.
The Conservative MSP reacted: “With council budgets having to be stretched further and further, this is money that could be going towards other, more effective, uses.
“This is a substantial amount of money to be left just sitting in Scottish Borders Council’s bank account.
“When the SNP gave this money over to councils it was to be spent on green transport initiatives, but as just over half of this has been used it shows it is clearly not a priority for them.
“Instead of this vast sum just gathering dust it should be put to good use. With people’s cars in the Borders being damaged every day by our potholed roads and class sizes rising in our primary schools, the council has a duty to ensure that we get the best possible value for money out of any funds they are given.”
Mr Lamont added: “The SNP has already devoted nearly £8million to green transport schemes, and the least they could do is redeploy the remainder of this fund to other more urgent areas of local government. This would give Scottish Borders Council a much-needed cash boost and start making a real difference to the lives of Borders residents.”
However, a spokesperson for SBC told us all of the £300,000 in the green transport intiative has in fact been spent. “I am informed by our fleet manager,” he said, “that the whole allocation has been spent on electric vehicles and the installation of a number of charging points.
“If there is any remaining budget from grant funding – we can assure members of the public that this will be spent.”