Commercial confidentiality barrier
I notice that yet another attempt to shed light on Scottish Borders Council’s financially-disastrous liaison with waste management company New Earth Solutions (NES), which has cost council taxpayers well over £2million, has been blocked by local authority leaders on grounds of commercial confidentiality.
How much longer do those in charge at Newtown St Boswells intend to cling to this rapidly-sinking lifeboat following the devastating news that the company’s £60million energy recovery facility (ERF) at Avonmouth, near Bristol, has been offloaded to the project’s lenders with no money changing hands? This was the treatment plant which so impressed a council delegation during a two-day trip to south-west England only a year ago.
An identical ERF at Easter Langlee, Galashiels, had been sanctioned by all elected members [in private, naturally] in October 2012 long before Avonmouth had a chance to prove it was a complete dud.
The Isle of Man-based parent company of NES, which was supposed to bankroll the Borders waste plant under a Public-Private Partnership agreement, informed shareholders and investors last week: “Ultimately, the development of the energy business at a cost of nearly £60million with its ambition to provide an integrated waste and energy solution for the UK market has not worked and has been a very costly and disappointing exercise.”
It appears that shareholders from the UK and overseas, who between them ploughed more than £30million into the Avonmouth ERF, stand little or no chance of getting their money back. And NES and its backers could not even afford the extra millions needed to sort out the plant’s catalogue of technological issues.
No wonder the council wants to keep all of the potentially embarrassing information it holds on this matter firmly under wraps. It would never do if one or more individuals responsible for such a huge loss of public money was actually identified and ordered to offer a public explanation for their actions.
I am led to believe the add-on energy recovery facility at Easter Langlee would have cost £8-£10million. But expensive experts commissioned by the council are said to have expressed misgivings about the fledgling NES technology before councillors signed the amended deal to include it as part of the contract.
Few if any private businesses would be allowed to write off losses running into millions of pounds without full disclosure to their shareholders. So why should the council be any different when it comes to explaining its lack of diligence and sheer carelessness to local taxpayers?
I notified several Borders councillors and politicians that the flagship Avonmouth facility had been sold for peanuts, and that an investigation was required into the council’s involvement.
So far I have not had a reply from any of them.
A complete own goal
I was amused, but not surprised, to read that the ending of green waste collections has been a complete own goal for Scottish Borders Council (SBC), with the much vaunted annual “savings” being consumed by increased landfill tax payments as residents fill black bins with garden waste (“Councillor refuses to bin kerbside claims”, last week’s issue, October 15).
I wonder what towering genius among our elected members and council officers failed to think through the inevitability of this outcome, which was widely predicted by many ordinary Borders folk.
It would be good to think that for once the incompetent arrogance of those who claim to know best would be softened by David Parker admitting the whole thing was a disastrous mistake that saved nothing and apologising. I think the sky will be full of flying pigs afore that happens.
To be moving backwards from an already abysmally low recycling target is utterly pathetic.
Many European countries routinely recycle 90% plus of domestic waste.
It’s not rocket science – although it’s clearly beyond the whit of SBC councillors and officers.
We go from the sublime of wasting £2.4million on useless untested technology to the ridiculous of claiming that we cannot fund green bin uplifts.
Perhaps councillors need a foreign junket to see how others do it? We could fund that by scrapping blue bin collections, perhaps.
Economic case doesn’t add up
Over the past months, any unbiased Scot aspiring to attain the venerable wisdom of the traveller on the Clapham omnibus may have been perplexed by the degree of political capital expended by Scottish Borders Council to justify the sitting of a permanent museum for the Great Tapestry of Scotland at Tweedbank station, the temporary terminus of the recently-reopened Waverley railway line.
Regardless of the inevitable unforeseen costs attendant on such enterprises, such is the scale of the predicted budget that any peripatetic sage might deduce that the views of those responsible for funding the majority of the anticipated expenditure (for a generation) have not been given sufficient consideration, particularly when so much under-investment in the Borders infrastructure, health and educational areas remains pressing.
Since no independent authority appears to have adjudicated on the merit of the tapestry design, the omnibus understudy could reasonably conclude that Andrew Crummy’s design is not inherently of any “great” artistic merit or historic authenticity. Any “greatness” the tapestry possesses appears to have been thrust upon it at the inception of the enterprise, not by the judgement of experts in decorative arts retrospectively or by popular acclaim, but via a small panel of writers, politicians and enthusiasts less concerned with the tapestry’s intrinsic value than its political or economic utility.
Even the model for this work, the Bayeux tapestry, has no adjective before its name.
In these straightened times a disinterested observer might wonder if any artwork, let alone one created by the goodwill and skill of a community of voluntary embroiderers, authorises the expenditure of more than £6million-plus by a seemingly unresponsive authority that adopted less than orthodox development procedures, when other alternative and potentially more cost-effective sites in the Galashiels/Melrose area could have been considered.
In the event that a purpose-built museum at Tweedbank proceeds in accordance with SBC’s peremptory procedures, is the design and procurement of this artefact also to be imposed on the ratepayers of the Borders without any more evaluation of its architectural merit, public and stakeholder involvement, or financial accountability than the exhibit it contains?
Regrettably, the controversy surrounding the final destination in the embroidery’s peregrination has become the story in the media rather than the central narrative it purports to convey.
In the interim, visitors to the Tweedbank interchange may wonder why when such largess is available to SBC, appropriate parking and toilet facilities seem to have been denied at this facility to the residents it was intended to serve.
Jonathon Avery Mann
Rise of the Left in Tweeddale
Tweeddale, with other areas in the Borders, was represented last weekend at an all-Scotland Edinburgh meeting of RISE (Respect, Independence, Socialism, Environmentalism).
It was unanimously agreed that we could start tackling the jobs crisis in the steel industry by taking it back into public ownership.
A full report back will be made at the open meeting in Peebles Drill Hall on October 29 at 7pm.
An important part of this gathering will also be deciding our core election policies and campaigning over the next few months, like banning all fracking as well as fighting austerity.
Local RISE circles want to include your local concerns, so you can also get in touch with the electoral alliance in Tweeddale by texting your details to 07443 461024 or emaling firstname.lastname@example.org.
On behalf of the Rotary Club of Melrose, could I thank those who attended our fashion show in the town’s Corn Exchange and helped us raise the sum of £2,190 for our designated charities.
This meant that after expenses, we were able to send each of our designated charities – Borders Samaritans, Children’s Hospice Association Scotland and Help for Heroes – £500 each, the remaining surplus will help to support Rotary charities such as Water Aid, Shelter Box and our local youth work.
All this would not have been possible without the exceptional generosity of Muriel from @Twelve in Melrose who not only organised the models, but gave some extremely handsome prizes and refused to take any expenses. Our thanks to Malcolm from Abbey Wines and his team who donated the wine tasting and to Michael Wares for supplying the glasses, and all the businesses who donated prizes.
David J. Dalglish
On behalf of Arthritis Research UK, I would like to thank everyone who shared their stories of living with arthritis with us during National Arthritis Week (October 12-18), and urge people who haven’t already done so that it’s not too late.
I’m a trustee of Arthritis Research UK and have rheumatoid arthritis, so I understand what it’s like to live with a painful, “invisible” condition. Arthritis affects over 10 million people in the UK, across all ages, with excruciating daily pain. It’s sometimes hard for other people to understand the pain and impact it can have on your day-to-day life – even simple things like making a cup of tea or going to the shops can feel like a mission.
Our “Share your Day, Shape our Future” campaign is asking people to share their day-to-day experiences of arthritis, to guide the pain research funded by Arthritis Research UK in 2016.
Stories need to be submitted on the campaign website – www.nationalarthritisweek.org. You can also read other people’s experiences and access expert patient information about managing arthritis and joint pain.