At yesterday’s full council meeting, both Hawick and Hermitage councillor Davie Paterson and Jedburgh councillor Jim Brown took the authority’s ruling administration to task over a cost-cutting measure which will see some parks and grass verges cut just once every three weeks.
Mr Paterson asked: “Will this administration not admit they have got it wrong by cutting back on grass-cutting in cemeteries and in well-used areas in all of our Borders towns to try to save money while still proceeding with a multi-million-pound scheme like the Great Tapestry of Scotland visitor centre in Galashiels?”
Galashiels councillor Sandy Aitchison,the authority’s executive member for neighbourhoods and localities, said: “In February of this year, the council agreed on several revenue savings within the neighbourhood team which included changes to the grass-cutting regime.
“A significant part of the change was moving general amenity grass to a 20-day cutting cycle from a 10-day cutting cycle.
“Five amenity areas will remain on a 10-day cutting cycle and therefore this is a change to some, but not all, areas of grass.
“There does appear, unfortunately, to be a general misconception that all areas of grass will be affected by these changes, which is not the case.
“We are also encouraging communities to play their part in supporting the council during these periods of budgetary restraint to maintain areas, should they wish to get involved, and officers will actively support such groups.”
Mr Paterson replied: “Do you not think that the sgovernment is failing to listen to the public and that we should reverse the decision to reduce the number of grass-cuts in Hawick and in other areas of the Borders? There are quite a number of people very very angry about this.”
Mr Aitchison explained: “There is method in changing council policy, and you know how to do that, should that be the case.
“What we are doing is enacting council policy which was agreed, and like everything else, when there is a budgetary saving, officers do what they are asked to do by us.
“If there was an alternative way to make a budgetary saving, I’d be only too happy to listen to it.”
Mr Brown also took the opportunity to ask whether communities had been consulted on the changes, saying: “There has been uproar across the Border to the changes in the grass-cutting regime.
“In my town of Jedburgh, writing about the disgraceful state of Castlewood Cemetery in a post on Facebook last week, ex-councillor Rory Stewart stated that the grass-cutting is a concern, and Scottish Borders Council seem to have moved the goalposts without due consultation with communities.
“What consultations were there with communities in advance of the changes in grass cutting implemented in April last year?”
Mr Aitchison replied: “As part of our budget consultation, the council proactively invited responses in the winter edition of SB Connect magazine to our proposal to change grass-cutting.
“This article was issued in December 2017 and delivered to all 56,000 households in the Scottish Borders. We also asked the public for their views in an online engagement survey.
“The proposal was to cut some grass areas less often to change the look and feel of areas and introducing wildflowers and working with communities to hand over responsibility for certain areas.
“In total, we received 28 responses on the topic, of which 22 were supportive, two were unsupportive and four were neutral.”
Mr Brown, however, remained unconvinced that the council had consulted with residents, saying: “It seems to me to be all too obvious that this Tory-led administration is not communicating with opposition members and community councils, and even independent partners, they’re not communicating well with them either.
“They’re pushing through their own narrow money-saving policies with no consideration for those affected, and a lot of folk in the Borders will agree with me.
“Is it possible, Mr Aitchison, that we’re now witnessing a major change in Tory policy? Over 10 years we’ve seen the Tory UK Government cap benefits, NHS spending, policing, pensions etc.
“Now it appears they’ve uncovered the only thing they’re not prepared to cut, and that’s the parks and open spaces within the Scottish Borders.”