Questions over bidding process
Re Scottish Borders Council (SBC) leader David Parker’s claims in putting the case for a £6.5million tapestry display unit at Tweedbank.
He said the Great Tapestry of Scotland Trust had other bidders to house this work and that the council was in competition against others to win the contact to build and house the tapestry.
I sent Freedom of Information requests to all Scottish local authorities asking if they had ever bid, or negotiated, with the trust to permanently house the Great Tapestry of Scotland. In every case, except for East Lothian, the answer was no.
So who was the council bidding against?
In Councillor Parker’s open letter to Selkirk Community Council, he notes that SBC officers have undertaken costed-out options regarding vacant buildings in the Borders.
He mentions Galashiels post office, stating building modification costs would be far higher than the proposed Tweedbank construction. Locations in other Borders towns were deemed unsuitable due to cost, size restrictions and/or by trust members’ demands.
Again I asked SBC, under Freedom of Information legislation, to confirm that it was tasked and carried out evaluation work and surveys as Councillor Parker described. The answer was again negative, with the rider that the council already had some general knowledge of Borders buildings and none came to mind as suitable. No mention was made of any detailed costing, including the recently-emptied locations such as Galashiels post office, the NGT Building in Selkirk or the old Barbour factory in Tweedbank.
Throughout 2014, Councillor Parker consistently pushed a one-choice agenda for the tapestry.
There was a photograph of him and Alex Salmond announcing the building before the business case was fully written or councillors had given their approval.
The SBC leader regularly maintained that the new build had to conform with specific requirements of Great Tapestry of Scotland trustees. It seems to me that Councillor Parker has allowed a group of unknown and unelected tapestry trustees to bully him into giving them a huge chunk of cash (without liability) which is to be taken out in the form of a 30-year loan to be paid for by Borders taxpayers.
Will Councillor Parker now confirm in writing that none of the trustees will in any way whatsoever receive any financial benefit or remuneration from the project?
I will be on the hook for part of the £17,000-a-month loan repayments he is signing me up to for the next 30 years and, therefore, I feel I deserve a few answers.
Website not working
You report that very few objections to the planning proposal for the new tapestry building at Tweedbank have been submitted.
Could this be because the council planning website was not working properly last week, preventing for substantial periods documents being viewed or comments submitted?
Given this IT failure, the council must extend the consultation period, or risk being accused of deliberately frustrating the planning process.
Lib Dem councillor Catriona Bhatia’s concern for lower-banding council tax payers (Southern, August 6) is puzzling as our last Lib Dem MP, Michael Moore, did not vote for the minimum wage.
Does she think our council should set and be accountable for the amount of tax charged without any capping from Holyrood? – the monies collected going to local services, schools, roads and homecare. Other projects have to be paid for, such as reprocessing plant expenditure – cash well spent?
Why does our council not hold an electronic vote on controversial subjects? – e.g. spending on housing the Great Tapestry of Scotland.
All electors have a unique council tax number, so it should be relatively easy to set up.
But maybe this is democracy going too far.
R. L. Simpson
Community charge fairer
Reading the letter (August 13) from George Matthews complaining about how unfair the property-based taxation system for local authorities is was like going back in time about 40 years.
Of course he is quite right about how unfair the property-based system is on householders with small families.
Back then the local income tax he advocates was not adopted because when the nitty-gritty of a varied local income tax for each area was examined, it was considered impractical and unworkable, especially if local accountability was also to be retained (without local accountability, the whole reason for local authorities disappears).
The community charge, the so-called poll tax, was brought in back then by the properly-elected government as a much fairer way of spreading those increasing costs over most users of the services, rather than landing the whole cost on householders only. It answered fairly well all of the points Mr Matthews raises in his letter.
However, like most norms in a democracy, it depended on the acceptance of the law-abiding citizens for it to work effectively. It is to the eternal shame of the Labour party opposition that at that time it was so bereft of ideas and alternative policies that it regularly resorted to encouraging law-breaking as about its only means of opposing the policies of the Thatcher government (the voters extracted a high price for those law-breaking Old Labour years because it was not until the Tony Blair era that Labour was trusted back into power).
Of course the community charge (poll tax) had to be dropped when the campaign encouraging people not to pay gathered large-scale support in England. But whether that was one of democracy’s finest hours, or the result of a rabble at work, is something we should all ponder deeply as fairer ways of funding the work of our councils again come under scrutiny.
How much longer must we wait until First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tells us when she’s going to vary Scottish income tax above present UK rates – and by how much?
Prior to the general election, Ms Sturgeon repeatedly told us she was going to save Scotland from austerity. But since then, pretty much all we’ve seen from the SNP is tedious game-playing at Westminster and daily demands for an imminent second referendum.
The Smith Commission granted the First Minister extensive new powers over income tax; this is her perfect opportunity to generate additional income from us to tackle austerity. But perhaps all that welfare rhetoric is forgotten, now the SNP has 95% of Scottish Westminster seats, and we won’t have to pay higher income tax in Scotland after all?
Hitherto, the SNP has merely spent money and complained that the Barnett Formula isn’t fair. The nationalists have long since had the opportunity to vary income tax, though never done so. The First Minister may be about to find out that raising taxes is as unpopular as anti-austerity rhetoric is popular.
It’s time Ms Sturgeon told us how she’s going to put our money where her mouth is.
On August 6, you published a letter from me in which I wrote that I had observed a heightened tone of exaggeration and perhaps even a whiff of desperation in some letters from those who wish to be governed from London.
I did not think this observation would be vindicated so soon by William Loneskie who replied in those terms – but with added intemperance, intolerance and contempt for those having a different viewpoint. He also seems under the illusion that I’m both a member of a political party and fanatical with it. Sorry to disappoint.
Though, since he blithely advocates rigging the democratic process to help get the result he desires, I think I can help in his quest to identify nationalist fanaticism (UK variety) – he need only look into the nearest mirror.
I would like to take the opportunity to express my thanks following the overwhelming support I received as Braw Lass 2015.
I would like to thank the Braw Lad’s Executive Council for allowing me the opportunity to fulfil my lifetime ambition and represent the town as Braw Lass.
It has been an honour which I will never forget and will be eternally grateful for this fantastic experience. The support and guidance you have given to me throughout is much appreciated. Thank you for all your hard work which makes the Braw Lad’s Gathering as big a success as it is today.
A massive thanks must all go to the Ex-Braw Lads’ and Lasses’ Association, especially to chairman Steven Headspeath. The fundraising and social events you organised prior to and throughout Braw Lad’s Week were excellent and thoroughly enjoyed by all. I know I speak on behalf of all six principals when I say that all of the support and advice you give throughout is greatly appreciated and helps make an excellent Braw Lad’s Week for all.
To Cameron, Alice, Gavin, Lucy and Daniel, thank you for all your support, guidance and endless laughs since declaration night. I could not have wished for a better group of people to share my first year in office with and I am confident that I have made five true friends for life.
Thank you also to my mum Helen, dad Paul, stepdad Jim, June, Becky and Joe for putting up with me throughout the summer and keeping me organised. I could not have achieved any of this without all of you and I hope you know how much I appreciate everything you have done.
Last, but certainly not least, huge thanks must go to the people of Galashiels and neighbouring Borders towns who supported myself, Cameron and our attendants, both on foot and horseback throughout Braw Lad’s week, but especially on Braw Lad’s day.
Braw Lass 2015
I would like to extend my thanks to all the folk who supported the recent charity shop in Hawick in aid of C.H.A.S. (Children’s Hospice Association Scotland), raising £2,755.
I would also like to thank everybody who donated items, to those who helped set up or clear the shop, or were there to sell to our many, many customers. Everyone’s help and efforts contributed to make this such a successful event.
I appreciate my many friends and family giving their time, and their commitment to help such a good cause.
Rising to the challenge
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and CLIC Sargent would love your readers to help us support families coping with the impact of a cancer diagnosis by taking on our £170 challenge.
The sum of £170 is the grant that CLIC Sargent gives to families after a child is diagnosed with cancer to stop unexpected costs like parking and petrol becoming a problem.
If you’re a fan of flapjack or a cupcake queen, why not show off your baking skills and whip up some tasty treats to sell to friends, family or workmates as part of The Power Of Cake. Alternatively, turn back time to your childhood with a retro day at your office. Come to work in your old uniform, the classic double denim or dress up as your childhood hero. Collect donations from everyone taking part and fine anyone who forgets.
CLIC Sargent currently supports 12 young cancer patients and their families across the Borders.
You can also buy gold ribbon badges to wear throughout the month from our online shop. From September they will also be available from branches of JD Wetherspoon pubs, Wallis, H Samuel, Ernest Jones or Wren Kitchens.
If you’d like to take on the £170 challenge in September, visit www.clicsargent.org.uk/ccam or call 01292 692113 for your free pack.
(CLIC Sargent Borders fundraising manager)
Spotting the symptoms
In Scotland eight in 10 women are not confident at spotting the symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Target Ovarian Cancer has launched a new Symptoms Diary to help women who are worried about ovarian cancer record their symptoms and talk to their GP – available as an app and in print. The Diary will help women who are experiencing symptoms to get an earlier diagnosis, and save lives.
The app version is free to download and is available for iPhone and android – visit www.targetovariancancer.org.uk.
Readers can claim a free printed Symptoms Diary by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or phoning 020 7923 5475.
The symptoms of ovarian cancer are feeling bloated, abdominal pain, feeling full and needing to wee urgently.
(head of primary care development)
Target Ovarian Cancer
Getting steamed up
It is often said that only the best is good enough for the Queen, and this is no doubt why Her Majesty will be hauled by a steam locomotive on the day she opens the Borders Railway next month.
What is regretable is that the same courtesy and sound engineering principles will not be extended to her subjects for whom the regular service will be provided by unreliable diesel traction.
Yet another missed opportunity by the Scottish Government who should have used part of its investment in the reopened Waverley route to support the skills and technology needed for the next generation of steam train construction.
John Eoin Douglas