Ex-health boss in eye of storm

A PROMINENT public figure is at the centre of a political storm after endorsing the policies of the two Lib Dem candidates seeking election to Holyrood on May 5.

Tony Taylor, a former chairman of the health board, the local enterprise company and the Scottish Textile Manufacturing Association, claims it is a “passion for the Borders” which has made him publicly oppose any attempts to wrest control of key public services, including health, policing and social work budgets, from the Borders.

“I am not a card-carrying member of any party, but I feel the Borders is under threat and that I must speak out,” said Mr Taylor whose views are published this week in the election newsletter of Jeremy Purvis who is fighting Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale for the Lib Dems.

It is a thinly-veiled attack on SNP proposals for more shared services to protect frontline jobs and Mr Taylor’s intervention – and his credentials – have been rubbished by Mr Purvis’s nationalist opponent Christine Grahame.

“Relying on endorsements from a former mill owner who represented and defended industry bosses during the steepest decline and job losses in Scottish textiles history demonstrates how panicked the Lib Dems have become,” said Ms Grahame yesterday.

In his statement, Mr Taylor, 70, says chairing Scottish Enterprise Borders (SEB) from 1996 to 2000, and the board of NHS Borders from 2000 to 2006 had been “hugely rewarding experiences”.

“I knew these bodies were focused on the needs of the Borders community first and national bodies second.

“I was disappointed however, in 2007, when the Scottish Government removed all local decision making away from SEB, meaning it no longer had a local budget with discretion to support local projects that its board considered a priority. The scrapping of SEB has harmed our local economy.

“The Borders has its own needs that are not always the same as other areas, particularly urban Scotland. We have our own pressures that are not addressed by a national ‘one size fits all’ approach. That is why I am particularly alarmed to hear of plans by some to have a national police force, a national social work budget and a national fire service. When times are tough it’s better to keep services local rather than centralise them.

“All these areas are so important to the Borders. We will need a strong voice in the Scottish Parliament to fight our corner and resist the moves to centralise.”

Mr Purvis told us: “For one of the Borders’ most respected and admired leaders to be endorsing my work is a major development in this campaign, and could actually be the start of something very big. 

“With Tony’s passion for and wealth of experience in the Borders his views will generate major interest. I share absolutely his concern about the prospect of losing local decision-making and I am fighting a very hard campaign to make sure I am in Parliament to speak out against it and prevent centralisation of our vital local services.”

But Ms Grahame blasted: “This is desperate stuff from the Lib Dem candidate. Mr Taylor has been away from frontline public service for some time and his advocacy of greater bureaucracy of public services at a time of severe economic downturn resulting from failed London-centric policies reflects that fact.

“Borderers might be asking themselves, where are the endorsements for the Lib Dem candidate from Nick Clegg?

“The region already shares services with other parts of Scotland, hence the reason we have Lothian and Borders Police and Lothian and Borders Fire Brigade.

“The proposals being placed before the Scottish Government arose from the concerns of frontline professionals in the field who highlighted the need to improve compatibility with other services in the rest of Scotland.

“These proposals are not being pushed by the former ‘chief’ like Mr Taylor, but the ‘indians’ on the ground who, day in day out, have to provide a quality, valuable service to our communities across the Borders.

“As most local business people testify, beyond the fancy receptions and expensive glossy ‘strategy’ papers, SEB did very little in real terms to help the local economy, but I acknowledge Mr Taylor’s vested previous interest in its continuation.”