Councillors urged to ‘lead by example’ as SNP demands £1m raid on reserves

A BID will be made today to take £1million out of Scottish Borders Council’s reserves so that work can get under way later this year on a notorious accident blackspot.

The challenge will come from the six-strong SNP opposition group which has slammed the omission from SBC’s capital budget of a £3.4million project to realign the A72 at Dirtpot Corner between Innerleithen and Peebles.

Last summer a motorcyclist died in an accident on the bend.

The council’s ruling administration has only set aside £275,000 in its capital programme for 2012/13 to stablise the steep slope which has caused road-blocking landslips in the past.

But the main realignment project has been shelved until 2018 and the SNP is demanding the £6.9million reserve fund should be raided to allow the first phase of this work to get under way and be completed within two years.

“Given the number of accidents over the last few years and the detrimental impact of landslips on the economy and communities of Tweeddale, we think remedial work to implement a permanent solution is urgent,” said SNP councillor John Mitche ll.

But the bid seems doomed to failure at today’s full council meeting with the administration keen to maintain reserves at 2.6 per cent of total revenue spending to cover legal claims, possible waste penalties, flooding incidents and the impact of severe winter weather.

Councillor Neil Calvert, SBC’s depute leader and finance spokesman, noted the capital plan being presented today does contain the slope stabilisation.

“Tweeddale East councillors Graham Garvie and Gavin Logan are pleased this stablisation work is taking place, but are concerned the proposal by the SNP [for the urgent realignment to privide additional road width] appears not to have the support of professional engineering advice,” said Mr Calvert.

“Further, our capital plan has been set on the basis of available funding and any variation of that would require another existing project to be dropped from the programme.”

Councillors will hear that the capital programme, funded largely by borrowing but capped by the Scottish Government, will total £29million in the next financial year, including £3.9million for new sports facilities at Peebles High School and £2million to repair roads ravaged by winter damage.

The SNP may stand a better chance of success with a motion to reinstate in the revenue budget £25,000 for regular inspections of street lighting across the region.

“Apart from dog fouling, councillors get more complaints about lights not working or being left on all day which is, by turn, dangerous and wasteful, than on any other topic,” said Mr Mitchell.

The opposition Borders Party will also seek amendments to the £264million revenue budget.

Its two councillors have targeted the extra £1.57million which has been allocated for so-called “business support” in the merged department of environment and infrastructure.

“This seems an excessive amount of money for staff, based mainly at Newtown, to provide advice and support to all divisions of the department in, among other things, performance monitoring,” said Borders Party leader Councillor Nicholas Watson.

His collegue Sandy Aitchison wants to take £75,000 from that budget and transfer it to education where it will be used to offer extra pre-exam study support for secondary pupils.

“With the continuing competition for higher and further education places, it is important we equip our students the best we can,” said Councillor Aitchison.

The duo will also propose that councillors cut their petrol mileage allowance, raised from 40p to 45p last year, and are charged £1.50 for a cup of coffee when they are at Newtown.

“Councillors must lead by example and the latter move alone would raise £7,500 a year which we want used to set up visiting schemes for the elderly, run by the voluntary sector.

“Loneliness can be a real burden for some elderly people and even a short visit once a week could make a big difference to many,” said Mr Watson.