Councillors approve administration budget

Councillor Mark Rowley.Councillor Mark Rowley.
Councillor Mark Rowley.
Scottish Borders Council’s draft budget was approved by councillors following a heated virtual debate today.

The Conservative and Independent-led administration's five-year revenue and 10-year capital financial budget plans were carried, with the SNP and Lib Dem opposition failing in bids to amend certain parts of it.

The former group had decided not to go ahead with am alternative budget of their own, as they had unsuccessfully done for the past three years, and instead attempted to tweak parts of it for projects of their own.

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Mark Rowley, executive member for economic regeneration and finance, proposed the administration’s budget, and rejected the amendments, saying that he had offered the opposition group to help prepare the budget, an offer which was declined.

Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell.Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell.
Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell.

Opposition group leader Stewart Bell said: “That would limit our opportunity to publicly project our alternative priorities and it is perfectly appropriate to do so.

"There is a plurality of views in the electorate … and it’s our responsibility to represent those views.”

Mr Rowley dismissed the proposed amendments as “press releases in waiting” … they aren’t planned budgets, they are whims.”

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He said this was a budget like no other, given the pressures presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, and proposed it, saying: “This budget is about empowering people of all ages, regenerating our settlements of every size and enabling our communities to survive and thrive.”

The amendments included the funding of three financial inclusion officers, an additional £15k for CAB funding, and funding for a biodiversity officer, all of which were rejected in turn by 22 votes to 11, with one councillor, Tom Miers, abstaining.

Mr Miers did vote with the administration on the final amendment, proposed by Councillor Euan Robson, to look at reopening the region’s public toilets ahead of the return of tourists to the area, meaning it was beaten by 23-11.

A further amendment, to spend £25,000 of a £27,000 underspend in the revenue support grant on foster and kinship care, again proposed by Mr Robson, was withdrawn by him when Mr Rowley said he had asked officers to compile a report on this.