Haslam launches an attack on opposition

Tweeddale West councillor Heather Anderson.
Tweeddale West councillor Heather Anderson.

The Conservative leader of Scottish Borders Council has accused the SNP of ‘living in cloud cuckoo land’ after the opposition tabled alternative financial plans for 2018/19.

The administration’s budget, which includes a five-year revenue plan of £1.3m and a 10-year capital plan of £294m, is set to be considered at a meeting of the council on Tuesday.

This year, councillors will have to decide which budget is best, with the opposition parties bringing an alternative to the table for the first time in over a decade.

SNP Councillor Heather Anderson, leader of the opposition parties’ working group, said: “We have focused on protecting the most vulnerable in our society. Making sure that everyone gets a fair deal is at the heart of our budget.”

But Council leader Shona Haslam has launched a scathing attack on the plans, which were unveiled on Tuesday, claiming they included just £100,000 for mental health services.

She said: “It is quite shocking to me that the SNP continue to sweep this under the carpet.

“Mental health is one of the biggest challenges facing not only our health service, but our education and police services.”

Councillor Haslam said that the ruling administration would invest £1.2m to tackle teenage mental health, and accused the opposition of pledging “a tokenistic amount that will not even scratch the surface”.

She added: “This administration is committed to protecting our front-line services from SNP cuts. If the SNP think that £100k is going to make a difference they really are living in cloud cuckoo land.”

Lib Dem councillor and member of the opposition Kris Chapman said the council leader’s comments were ‘ill-informed’.

“Cllr Haslam has not read the detail,” he said. “The opposition parties are fully committed to the existing £1.2 million investment in mental health, and are proposing an additional £100k investment into this much needed service.”

Councillor Chapman added: “I can reassure Cllr Haslam and this administration that the opposition parties have put fairness at the heart of their budget process, standing up for, and protecting the most vulnerable and disadvantaged here in the Scottish Borders.”

The opposition budget includes a £1.2m ‘Fairness Fund’ to address problems of rural poverty and isolation. The fund would facilitate fairness officers whose remit would include ensuring residents were getting their full social security entitlement, as well as increasing their social networks and supporting them to access a range of services within their communities.

The opposition parties have also pledged to release £16m from the capital programme to keep the school building programme on track.

Councillor Stuart Bell, leader of the opposition, said that four of the region’s high schools needed refurbishment or redevelopment. “We want to change funding priorities to bring forward at least two more new high schools,” Councillor Bell said.

“We will maintain the pace of school development and we will also inject more cash into school repairs and redecoration.”

He added that, in response to public concerns, an extra £2m had been earmarked for resurfacing roads.