Borders council rejects plea to reverse grass-cutting cutbacks

Hawick and Hermitage councillor Davie Paterson.
Hawick and Hermitage councillor Davie Paterson.

Scottish Borders Council chiefs have rejected calls to reverse controversial changes to their grass-cutting timetable despite pleas from councillors including Davie Paterson.

Administration members were taken to task at today’s full council meeting at Newtown by Hawick and Hermitage councillor Mr Paterson and accused of ignoring residents’ concerns over the issue.

The council recently changed its grass-cutting regime from a 10-day cycle to a 20-day cycle, meaning that grass on roadside verges and in parks and cemeteries is cut just once every three weeks.

That change has met with widespread protest from opposition councillors and from community councils.

Mr Paterson asked council leader Shona Haslam if the cuts could be reversed within the current financial year, inquiring: “With so much anger, and the public lambasting some councillors with sheer venom and some admin members now openly critical of the decision that they took to decrease the level of grass-cutting, would the leader please tell the council if there is any realistic prospect of this budget-saving measure being changed in this financial year?”

Tweeddale East councillor Mrs Haslam replied: “Making £12m of savings is not easy.

“Next year, we have to make £16m. Again, this is not going to be easy.

“These are tough decisions that councils throughout Scotland are having to make, but during this budget, we’ve increased spending on roads, we’ve increased spending on priority areas such as mental health, and we’ve produced a sustainable plan to review our school estates. That is quite a first year and one I am immensely proud of.

“This budget measure was passed unanimously by the council.”

Jedburgh councillor Jim Brown also stepped up to criticise the council’s changes to grass-cutting, describing cemeteries in the Borders as looking tatty

He asked: “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?”

The council’s executive member for neighbourhood and locality services, Galashiels councillor Sandy Aitchison, fielded that question, saying: “Discussion are continuing with our communities, and indeed we were down in Jedburgh yesterday.

“There may well be a case made to manage some cemeteries differently, moving forward. However, at the moment our new policy is consistently applied throughout the Borders and we are ensuring it is fair to all.”

Mr Brown followed up by calling for Mr Aitchison to apologise to Borders residents for reportedly failing to consult with the public properly, saying: “I have to say I have a problem with that. It is clear that best practice is to engage with communities before implementing changes, and that has not happened.

“Will you now apologise to the Borders public, on behalf of this administration, for this failed consultation?”

Mr Aitchison replied: “We followed the normal publicity processes around the consultation. There was consultation, and we are continuing that consultation process.

“This is about budgetary concerns. It’s all about funding. If there’s an underspend from the Scottish Government, then tell them to send the money here, and we’ll cut the grass regularly, every 10 days.”