Cut the red tape, demands Edgar

IT’S time for Scottish Borders Council to cut the red tape and devolve more funding and decision-making powers to local communities, writes Andrew Keddie.

That is the view of Gordon Edgar, chairman of Selkirk community council, which, on Monday, will respond to a consultation document on the replacement of SBC’s area committees.

Three of the region’s five area committees, including Eildon which dealt with minor decisions affecting Selkirk, were scrapped nine months ago to save money and reflect little public interest.

Under the new proposals, the remaining two – Cheviot and Teviot & Liddesdale – will also be abolished and a network of five community engagement committees (CECs) formed later this year. But voting rights on these bodies remain the sole domain of SBC councillors, although membership will be extended to include representatives of all community councils and “other recognised community groups”.

CECs, which will determine small local schemes, town twinning matters, street-naming, traffic management schemes and the disbursement small community grants, will include an open forum for members of the public to speak for a maximum of five minutes. Meetings will be held quarterly in afternoons or evenings at a range of community halls.

And SBC will use the CECs to “consult communities on specific relevant policies, budget planning and the quality of delivery of local services”.

Asked for his personal view on the proposals, Mr Edgar said SBC appeared to be paying “no more than lip service” to the principle of local decision-making.

“Area committees had some relevance until 2009 when planning decisions were taken away from them, while abolishing three and retaining two produced a two-tier system of local democracy, with Selkirk losing out, which was totally unacceptable.

“This looks like more of the same and I think the time has come for democratically-elected community councils to be properly funded to deliver local improvements.

“At a recent meeting in the town of the Selkirk Common Good Working Group, which formerly met before area committee meetings, there were five members of the public and no less that six paid officials of SBC.

“The same level of officer support will doubtless be required to service the CECs: money that would be better spent on funding the things that are important to the people of Selkirk. It’s time to cut the red tape.”

To view the consultation paper go to www.scotborders.gov.uk/consultations or, to get one sent, call Jenny Wilkinson on 01835 825004. The consultation ends of May 6.

Monday’s community council meeting in the Victoria Halls starts at 7pm, with an open-forum session scheduled for 7.30pm.

Before the meeting, community councillors will visit the police station to review the town’s CCTV system.