We were disappointed, but not surprised, that the Scottish Borders Council’s SNP-led administration chose to reject the Conservative Group’s alternative budget proposals last Thursday.
Unfortunately, members ofthe administration either misunderstood or deliberately misrepresented our proposals. So we would like to take this opportunity to clarify our main proposals.
The first point is that our proposed budget and that of the administration are very similar, since both documents took as their starting point the recommendations of the council’s chief officers. However, we strongly believe that extra savings can be made in the running of the council’s headquarters to enable higher expenditure at the front line.
This would enable us to spend an additional £4.8m on road maintenance over the next five years and avoid increasing the price of primary school meals
In addition, contrary to what was alleged by members of the administration, we share the ambition to raise planning fees so that the full costs of planningapplications are recovered. As the Scottish Government does not yet permit us to do this (and it is dependent on developers submitting significant projects in the next four years) we think it would be naïve to count our chickens before they are hatched. That is why these fee increases were not included in our budget proposals.
We also support the administration’s plans to renegotiate present and future employees’ terms and conditions. This is not just sensible but essential, given that staff costs account for the lion’s share of council spending. Where we differ is how to handle the inevitable reorganisation of jobs that will be necessary over the next five years.
The administration wants to continue with its policy of no compulsory redundancies but we see very real problems with this approach – not least the fact that those who volunteer for redundancy or early retirement are too often the very people you might want to retain. With significant reorganisation, it is vital to get the correct balance of skill and experience; so restricting that choice will potentially provide poorer services.
This said, having the option of compulsory redundancy does not mean enforced job losses. There are a number of other ways to shrink the wages bill before resorting to that. An open, honest and inclusive culture would help to ensure that the people of the Borders had a council to be proud of and the administration’s leadership might want to consider that.
Hopefully, we have now set the record straight.
Michelle Ballantyne (Selkirkshire)
Nathaniel Buckingham (Tweeddale West)
Zandra Elliot (Hawick)
Jim Fullarton (East Berwickshire)
John Greenwell (Mid Berwickshire)
Gavin Logan (Tweeddale East)
Simon Mountford (Kelso and District)
Sandy Scott (Jedburgh)
George Turnbull (Hawick an Hermitage)
Tom Wetherston (Kelso an District)