Scottish Borders Council’s ruling administration faces further criticism today, June 28, over what are claimed to be disrespectful cutbacks to maintenance of cemeteries.
The council recently changed much of its grass-cutting from a 10-day cycle to a 20-day cycle, meaning grass on roadside verges and in parks and cemeteries is cut just once every three weeks in the Borders.
Those changes have triggered widespread protests from opposition councillors and community councils, many of them claiming that not enough consultation was carried out beforehand.
At today’s full council meeting at Newtown, Jedburgh councillor Jim Brown will ask the ruling administration: “Now that there has been time to fully appreciate the effects of the changes recently made to the Borders’ grass-cutting regime and, given the strength of complaints about the tatty state of our cemeteries being disrespectful to those no longer with us, will you now give serious consideration to reversing the decision to cut the grass in our cemeteries on a 20-day cycle?”
A similar question was put to the authority at last week’s meeting of the authority’s Teviot and Liddesdale area partnership in Hawick as council officers came face to face with residents and community councillors outraged by the cost-cutting measures.
Faced with questions from an open forum, the council’s neighbourhood manager, Jason Hedley, explained the rationale behind the decision saying: “The council agreed, as part of its budget-setting, that significant savings could be made with this service, some of which derived from grass-cutting and maintenance, but some also derived from the provision of annual floral displays and savings to come from the access team.
“They did so on the back of a successful trial which me and my team ran across the Scottish Borders last year, looking at changing the frequency of grass-cutting maintenance across 50 sites, which were changed from a 10-working-day cycle to a 20-working-day cycle.
“We also changed the type of equipment which we utilised. Clearly, though, if you don’t cut the grass as often, then between those cuts the grass will be longer.
“As service manager, I do have to concede that there have been some challenges for us, many of which stem from us learning to cope with the new equipment that we have.”
Speaking ahead of today’s full council meeting, Mr Brown, a Scottish National Party councillor, said: “I raised the general question of this new council policy last month after hearing of numerous complaints from the public and community councils about the overgrown public areas and the disgraceful state of Castlewood Cemetery in Jedburgh.
“I complained then that there has not been consultation with communities in advance of changes, so officers could make an acceptable change.
“The problem isn’t just confined to the Cheviot area. Across the Borders, from Peebles to Chirnside, there is anger from the public specifically at the long grass and the unsightly state of our cemeteries.
“There was even a group of callants in the Peebles Beltane parade last Saturday dressed as skeletons who were mocking the mess that has been made of our cemeteries.
“But there is a serious side to this. The public are complaining, with justification, that they pay the council for a burial plot, and that payment should be used, in part, to maintain cemeteries to an acceptable standard.
“Our cemeteries are not being maintained to an acceptable standard. They are a disgrace to the council.
“The Tory-led administration should rethink this policy and revert to a sensible maintenance regime.”