ALTHOUGH faced with swingeing cuts to its budget next year, Scottish Borders Council will not skimp in its efforts to keep the region moving during the big freeze.
That was the assurance given yesterday by leader David Parker as he warned Borderers they would endure sub-zero temperatures and remain snowbound until December 30.
“That is the latest advice we have from the Met Office whose predictions up to now have been spot on, so we all face a long haul,” said councillor Parker.
“It’s important to emphasise that, although we face big spending cuts next year, we are throwing all available resources at this unprecedented weather situation.
“Although we’ve had a number of complaints from members of the public who feel we should have done better, there is no way we are seeking to save money by rationing our services.
“If our winter budgets are exceeded, which seems inevitable, we have general fund reserves of around £6million which we can access if necessary to see us through.”
Mr Parker believes the response here has been more effective than in neighbouring local authority areas.
“The feedback from drivers in East Lothian and Midlothian, and especially this week in Edinburgh, is that the Borders is in a far better shape and I have no doubt this is down to the dedication of our staff, partner agencies, the police and, not least, the resilience of our communities.
“Using all our own resources, we have managed to keep all main roads open with care throughout the crisis, with the brief exceptions last week of the A68 at Soutra and the northern part of the A7.
“Essential supplies have been getting through and schools have been open this week, while we still have manual staff working around the clock to clear key roads and footways and home carers battling through snow to get to clients. Many building firms have been lending a hand with the snow clearance in our towns and outlying areas.
“I believe the vast majority of Borderers appreciate these efforts.”
With the exception of Heriot Primary whose pupils have been going to Fountainhall, all schools have been open this week, although pupils were sent home early on Monday when the region was caught up in the snowfalls which crippled Scotland’s central belt.
Peeblesshire was worst hit by the snow which came after an overnight temperature of -18 degrees was recorded at Lamancha. The chill continued yesterday with -15 degrees at Eskdalemuir and the sub zero night-time temperatures are set to continue until Saturday.
Daytime temperatures are expected to rise after that, but not enough to effect any significant thaw.
Meanwhile, the adage that a day out of Hawick is a day wasted resonated with retired senior police officer Kevin Mitchell on Monday after he took more than 13 hours to drive just seven miles in Lanarkshire.
Mr Mitchell, now a civil servant who inspects child protection units, had left his Hawick home at 6am and had arrived safely at his office in Wishaw two hours later.
“The roads were black all the way, but by 12.30pm, it was a white-out, so I decided to head for my hotel at Strathcyle Park seven miles away,” said Mr Mitchell. “I had no food or water with me – I didn’t arrive until 1.45am.
“It was totally surreal and while I knew I would cope, I really worried about old people and children who were stuck in the jam.
“Lessons over the lack of emergency, humanitarian help available must be learned. If I had been stuck for that length of time in the Borders, I’m sure someone from the Tweed Valley Mountain Rescue team would have been knocking on my car window to check I was okay. It presses home the message that we are so lucky with our services in the Borders.”
Another caught up in the M8 traffic chaos was student Ryan Small from Galashiels.
The 31-year-old was trying to return to his Glasgow accommodation to attend Cardonald College, but instead spent nearly 12 hours stuck on Scotland’s busiest road. He moved a total of four miles in that time before being forced to return to Galashiels early on Tuesday morning.
“We received no information from police or highway agencies,” he told us. “The only information was from Radio Scotland. I have never experienced anything like that – it was terrible.
“It was getting a bit scary [on Monday night]. It was really, really cold; the temperature was down to -10 at one point.
“I’d resigned myself to sleeping in the car overnight but then at about 11.45pm I spotted a junction and thought ‘I’ve had enough’ and decided to go back to Galashiels. I got back at around 1.30am on Tuesday morning.”
Meanwhile, former Gala RFC stand-off Andy McLean was forced to stay at a friend’s in Edinburgh on Monday night after an eight-hour M8 journey.
The 27-year-old told us: “I had a meeting at 10am in Glasgow and when I got out of the meeting at 12.30pm I thought it would be a long trip and I would have to drive at 20 or 30mph. I quickly realised it was going to be worse than that because the road was treacherous.
“I was prepared to stay overnight in my car and I did have blankets. I wasn’t worried about myself, more for the elderly and people with young children.
“Thankfully I managed to turn off at Lanark and made it to Edinburgh at around 8.30pm and stayed at a mate’s. I had travelled 10 miles in five hours on the M8.”
Back in the Borders, the aforemention Tweed Valley Mountain Rescue (TVMR) team has attended 16 incidents between November 27 and December 4, clocking up 520 person hours among their 40-strong team of volunteers.
These included a call-out on Friday to Ruberslaw near Denholm to search for four people who later returned home safely and to the Pentland Hills to aid a young couple lost, exhausted and in waist deep snow on Saturday.
Steve Penny, TVMR team leader, said: “Clearly this week has provided the team with opportunities to help others and work in partnership with a range of services.
“For over 40 years we have relied heavily on local communities to provide both members for the team and support through donations. Times such as this period of severe weather give the team the chance to give something back.”