Borders council convener standing down

Graham Garvie.
Graham Garvie.

Tweeddale East councillor Graham Garvie, convener of Scottish Borders Council for the past seven years, has been honoured as he prepares to quit local politics.

At the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ annual conference in Aberdeen last week, Mr Garvie was presented with the party’s John Morrison Award for “outstanding leadership and dedication in local government”.

The accolade was conferred on the 75-year-old, of Peebles, after he confirmed that he will be standing down at May’s council election.

It is an acknowledgment of 25 years of public service in the Borders beginning in 1985 when he was appointed chief executive of the old Tweeddale District Council.

When that authority ceased to exist in 1996, Mr Garvie worked for the Foreign and Commonwealth office as an adviser for economic development in the Balkans before his election as a Lib Dem councillor in 2003 and his subsequent elevation to the figurehead role of convener in 2012.

“I’ve seen both sides of the coin, both as senior officer and elected member, and I’ve seen many changes – not all of them good,” he reflected this week.

“I’m very concerned, for instance, at the gradual erosion of the powers and influence of local authorities and their diminished role.

“While I’ve always been in favour of a Scottish Parliament, this is a situation which has gained momentum and worsened considerably since the parliament was established and developed.

“Local authorities have been blown about by every shade of political wind, and important services – such as council housing, further education, tourism, police, water and sewage and environmental protection – have been removed from local democratic control over the years.

“Even the local determination of council tax, which now accounts for just 17% of our council’s spending, has been taken away.

“I’m not at all surprised that this incessant shift of discretionary decision-making over crucial public services has contributed to a growing disengagement of the people from politicians and led to an unhealthy cynicism, as evidenced by continuing declining turnouts at council elections.”

Despite those misgivings, Mr Garvie believes councillors still have a key role to play in their communities, however.

“Although I’m calling it a day, I’m particularly pleased that a new generation of younger folk – especially young women – are putting themselves forward for election in May,” he said.

“Despite the frustrations, it is a truly rewarding experience to help people facing difficulties and handicaps in their lives and make a real difference.”