Cutbacks could be turn-off for tourists, Borders council chiefs warned

Scottish Borders Council is being warned not to cut its nose off to spite its face as it scales back yet more services.

Thursday, 29th August 2019, 8:09 am
Scottish Borders Council's Newtown headquarters.

Grassy areas are now being cut once a month rather than every fortnight as the cash-strapped council attempts to make savings. The authority is also no longer providing bedding plants and flowers.

However, speaking at a meeting of Melrose Community Council last week, its vice-chairwoman, Valerie Miller, said tourists would not return if the region looked drab.

Addressing Leaderdale and Melrose councillors David Parker, Tom Miers and Kevin Drum, she warned: “You have to be very careful where you are going with this.

“This is a small tourist town. Other towns in the Borders also rely on tourists.

“If people come and do not find it attractive, they will not come back.”

A long-standing member of Melrose in Bloom, Mrs Miller questioned the longevity of volunteers keeping the town looking nice.

“Maybe in Melrose we can cope because we have got a very strong group and we have terrific support from the community and businesses in the town, but even we are thinking this is going to be tricky,” she said.

“We are all getting older, and if we do not attract new, young members and if Melrose in Bloom were to fade, I don’t know what will happen.

“We have rough grass where we did not have it before, but we have also got ragwort on the roundabouts towards Galashiels. That’s not good. The consequences of this can increase tremendously.

“This is the first bit of Scotland visitors see, and things are looking a bit drab. It’s not good housekeeping to cut back, cut back, cut back.”

Referring to the council’s £16m investment in iPads for schoolchildren announced earlier this year, Mrs Miller said that large amounts of money are being spent on projects “that a lot of people don’t agree with”.

“We’re saying what we are seeing,” she said. “Things are not being monitored, they are not being repaired, they are not being replaced.

“The day before the Beautiful Scotland judges came, I was up to my knuckles in the drains in Abbey Street pulling out the weeds. It is bad housekeeping. We need the basics done before we do these extra things.”

Explaining that the council has two separate budgets, Mr Miers said it is the revenue budget, which includes grass-cutting, that had been cut.

Agnes Waldie said: “The general public see cuts here and cuts there, then they see in the newspaper that all kids are going to be given an iPad, then the iPads need covers. People automatically connect that.

“I know what you are saying, that it’s different budgets, but people just see that as the council. That’s what folk are saying on the street.”

Mr Miers replied: “I totally take your point, but it is a point of fact that the iPads are a capital item, not a revenue item.

“It is not that money has been taken away from grass-cutting and put into iPads. The revenue side has got less money and has to find cuts.

“I think the council could be doing things better, but the fundamental problem is that it has less money. It’s not an easy situation.”