Cash spent on council offices a necessity, says SBC leader Parker

LOCAL authority leader David Parker this week defended the decision to spend more than £80,000 on improvements to offices at Scottish Borders Council headquarters in Newtown St Boswells, with a possible additional £50,000 to refurbish the main council debating chamber, writes Mark Entwistle.

The figures were issued in response to a question from the Conservative group leader on the local authority, Councillor Michelle Ballantyne, at last week’s full council meeting.

Mrs Ballantyne wanted to know which rooms, offices or areas are being refurbished in council headquarters, at what cost and for what reasons.

She was informed that SBC carries out routine maintenance and small-scale alteration works to all its council buildings to keep them fit for purpose. 

In 2012/13, works include accommodating NHS staff in SBC headquarters offices as part of the joint working programme (estimated cost £10,000) and works to relocate environment and infrastructure staff to headquarters as part of restructuring (estimated cost £25,000). Works will be needed to move the mail room to the old school building in Newtown St Boswells and demolish the Bristol Building – this will save on running costs at the Bristol Building and enhances staff car park (estimated cost £25,000), The plan to move assessors out of Scott House into main headquarters and save on running costs will also need work done, at an estimated cost of £15,000.

Also included is the sum of £9,606 being spent to refurbish and expand Mr Parker’s office accommodation. The money was spent to merge his office with a smaller adjacent one to enable Mr Parker to host the large-scale meetings which are regularly attended by 12 to 16 people and avoid taking up valuable meeting room space elsewhere.

The council leader told TheSouthern: “It is also the case that because of my own sight, and the support I receive from my PA, it is necessary to have a member of staff sharing with me when I am not in meetings to allow me to carry out the high volume of administrative work that I have. Our previous room did struggle to cope with the two work stations and we had very cramped meeting accommodation.”

On the issue of refurbishments to the council chamber - which would cost in excess of £50,000 – Mr Parker said this is under consideration, but it was proposed to replace the current tables with new wheeled tables hat are easier to manage.

“The current tables are heavy and are not designed to be assembled and re-assembled as frequently as they are being and they have recently been condemned on health and safety grounds,” he said.

“They are over 20 years old and have been routinely assembled and re-assembled up to five times a day over that period so we have certainly had our money out of them. From a moving and handling perspective, we cannot continue with them.

“We will also replace the chairs which again are 20 years old and have seen better days and we intend to replace the carpet as it is frayed, marked and very badly worn in a number of places.

“We need to re-paint the ceiling because of a recent leak and we intend to look at the lighting at the same time. These works are all being costed but they are part of our normal routine maintenance regime and nothing significant has happened in the council chamber for well over 20 years apart from a new carpet about 10 years ago.

“We also intend to re-do the toilets nearest the council chamber as these are in an extremely poor condition.

“In planning these works, we are using local companies where possible and we have made sure that the furniture and carpet which we select present good value for money and are not at the expensive end of the 
market.

“The council chamber is our main civic space in the Borders. Unlike other council chambers, it is used extensively and on a daily basis it hosts numerous meetings, receptions and events.

However, Mrs Ballantyne still says the money could have been better spent. “I know that the cost of these refurbishments in Selkirk is our children sitting in run-down classrooms that could have been brought up to a satisfactory standard with this money.

“It is a disgrace to be spending money refurbishing perfectly adequate areas of the council headquarters whilst advising communities that they have to make do or wait because money is tight.

“This administration would do well to learn the cost of things as this is public money that they are gleefully spending.”