Pressure on councillors to increase roads spending

Scottish Borders Council headquarters in Newtown St Boswells.
Scottish Borders Council headquarters in Newtown St Boswells.

A business leader has described as “pitiful” the cash which the council intends to devote to roads maintenance in the coming financial year.

Hans Waltl, chair of the Borders Federation of Small Businesses, was commenting after it was confirmed that £3.7million – out of a total revenue budget of £254million – was being allocated for “ongoing maintenance” of the region’s 3,000km of roads, 900km of footways and 1,200 bridges.

However, the local authority has also earmarked borrowings of £69million in its capital programme over the next 10 years for major, but as yet unspecified, infrastructure works on the ailing network.

Details of these and other capital projects will not be revealed in detail until February 5 – a week before the 2015/16 budget goes before councillors for approval.

Mr Waltl told us: “The relatively small amount spent on a vital asset worth £3billion is pitiful. Unless we can get more folk into the Borders and more goods out, the amount of business we do is limited … no additional wealth creation means the overall physical and social environment will remain the same.”

The bones of the revenue budget which will be up for approval – along with an eighth successive annual freeze on Council Tax – on February 12 were given at a press briefing this week, when SBC leader David Parker admitted many parts of the region had yet to experience economic recovery. This was evidenced by the failure of the council to benefit financially from the sale of many of its surplus buildings.

“Stimulating the Borders economy and encouraging sustainable growth is one of our key priorities,” he stated.

Although revenue spending will increase by £2million in 2015/16, extra pressures on council services – including a pay increase for its 5,500 staff and more demands on social work services – means savings of £8m are required.

Higher charges for council services, better use of IT and the shedding of around 55 jobs without compulsory redundancies will help meet that shortfall.

The transfer of home care services to a new arms -length company on April 1 will deliver savings of more than £400,000, while an extra £200,000 will be saved when cultural services, including museums, are passed to a trust later in the year.

The Conservative opposition group is due to meet early next week to discuss its reactions to the spending plans of the SNP/Independent/Lib Dem administration.

Group leader Michelle Ballantyne told The Southern: “On what we know, it seems the road budget is in decline compared to the performance in other parts of Scotland.

“When we finally get some details about this budget, we will examine them very closely to ensure any decisions offer value to the people of the Borders.”