Budget proposes tax hike and job losses

Shona Haslam and  George Turnbull present their draft financial plan for 2018-19.
Shona Haslam and George Turnbull present their draft financial plan for 2018-19.
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Borderers will be hit with a three per cent hike in their council tax bill if a draft financial plan for the region is approved next week.

Scottish Borders Council claims that its budget will ‘improve the lives of Borderers, whatever their age’, with planned investments including a £22m spend on roads and bridges in the next three years, £89m to improve schools by 2028, and £2.1m for outdoor community spaces.

Scottish Borders Council leader Shona Haslam.

Scottish Borders Council leader Shona Haslam.

However, after the local authority received a ’difficult financial settlement’ from the Scottish Government, cuts also have to be made. As well as implementing a council tax rise - which would see residents in Band D properties paying an extra £35 a year - the ruling Conservative/Independent coalition also wants to claw back savings by slashing 35 jobs at the council.

Council leader, Shona Haslam said: “We have developed a budget which builds on opportunities and improves the lives of Borderers, whatever their age. It focuses on delivering quality services, opportunities for all in a thriving economy, empowering communities and enabling people to live independently and achieve their goals.

“We are committed to investing in services to help the most vulnerable in society, both young and old, deliver improvements to our roads, build new schools and support businesses by stimulating the local economy and improving our town centres.”

But Ms Haslam admitted that ‘efficiencies’ had to be made, and said that 35 full time equivalent posts ‘may be removed’ during the next year.

“We are proposing a three per cent increase in council tax, which will generate around £1.6m for next year’s budget,” she said. “Council tax makes up less than a quarter of all the funding we receive, and this increase is only the second in 10 years.”

Councillor George Turnbull, executive member for finance, said: “We continue to be faced with circumstances out with our control, including financial and demographic, which put pressure on the council’s budget, and we take our responsibility to carefully manage our funds extremely seriously.

“We recognise that there are some key priorities for local people and that is why we are proposing significant investment in delivering specialist care and support services and new extra care housing to enable people to live independently for longer, new and improved schools to give our young people the best start in life and also better roads to connect all our communities.”

Mr Turnbull said that the council had asked for the public’s view prior to preparing the budget.

The budget plans will be considered at a meeting of the council next Tuesday, February 20.