Since 2013/14, the local authority has had to make £60m of cutbacks from its budget, but a further £29.5m is required to be saved over the next five years.
Although the funding for local councils has been steadily decreasing over the last decade, this year a last-minute Scottish budget deal between the Scottish Greens and the majority SNP has led to much more cash flowing into the council’s coffers.
Despite this, there is still a substantial amount of austerity still in store for Borders residents, as million-pound savings are required from the council’s assets and infrastructure, health and social care, and children and young people budgets.
At a press conference on Thursday, February 21, members of the ruling Tory/Independent announced their plans for the coming financial year.
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Despite agreeing to raise council tax by 3% in December, and despite council leader Shona Haslam confirming that the council would not use new tax-raising powers included in the Scottish budget, the authority will now charge an extra 1% on top of the already-established 3% rise.
The 1% increase will net Scottish Borders Council an extra £600,000 a year, and will be used to fund a £2.4m investment, spread out over the next four years, in the region’s roads and pavements.
Hawick High School
The extra money raised by the council tax increase will also be used to leverage borrowing of £20m, which will the council hopes will accelerate plans to build a new school in Hawick.
Hawick was controversially passed over as a priority in the council’s recent school estates review, in favour of Galashiels which is due to get a new high school in time for 2023.
Under the previous school estates review, Hawick would have to wait until at least 2026 to see a new high school, but the extra £20m of borrowing will now be used to accelerate construction with the aim of opening a new Hawick high school within the next 5 years.
iPads for all
Every 10 to 17 year old in the Borders is to receive an iPad, according to a £16m investment announcement by the council.
As well as every P6 to S6 pupil receiving an iPad, which they can take home and use with their family, iPads will be bought for P1 to P5 pupils at a ratio of one for every five children.
Councillor Shona Haslam, who represents Tweeddale East, added: “It’s a really exciting, and huge investment on behalf of the council. We’re the first local authority in Scotland to be rolling out iPads on this scale to every single young person.
“We’re really excited about the impact it’s going to have in the poverty attainment gap, as well as for additional needs students. Quite often in classrooms additional needs students are the odd ones out because they’re sitting with their iPads. That will now no longer be the case.”
Bin collections to stay fornightly
Despite rumours to the contrary, Scottish Borders Council’s waste services kerbside collection review has not led to bin collections moving to once every three weeks.
Instead, the review has identified various savings around service optimisation, a review of working patterns and depot strategies.
Second CAT team
One of the announcements to come from the budget is that a second police community action team will be established, comprising of seven police officers, at a cost of £265,000.
The community action team was launched in April as a collaboration between Scottish Borders Council and Police Scotland as a way to tackle anti-social behaviour and drug-related crime in the Borders.
Since then, officers have conducted 172 personal drug searches, and carried out 57 property raids. Although just 37.3% of the personal drug searches were successful, more than 77% of property searches yielded drugs.
The team has also issued 632 parking tickets, carried out 81 roadside checks and patrolled the Borders in both vehicles and on foot for a total of 680.5 hours over a nine-month period.
Two new primary schools
The council’s administration has also announced that both Earlston and Eyemouth will be receiving new primary schools, at a cost of £9m and £16m respectively.
There will also be a further £3m spent on the Galashiels Academy project.
Extra care funding
The council will be spending an extra £3m on extra care housing in the region in Hawick, Kelso, Eyemouth, and Peebles.
Councillor Mark Rowley, who represents Mid Berwickshire, said: “The council has already committed over £3.5m to extra care housing developments at Todlaw, Duns and Langhaugh, Galashiels, and we want to invest a further £3m to help take forward plans for similar projects in Hawick, Kelso, Eyemouth and Peebles.
“The Scottish Borders is facing a demographic challenge where in 20 years half of all households are predicted to be over the age of 65.
“Services for older people must be ready for that and this administration is prepared to commit funding to that end.”