Near-5% council tax hike will fund schools

Borderers will have to dig deeper into their pockets to make ends meet next financial year as council tax is set to go up by 4.84%.

By Kevin Janiak
Tuesday, 18th February 2020, 5:59 pm
The fire at Peebles High School in November has put extra pressures on the council's budget.
The fire at Peebles High School in November has put extra pressures on the council's budget.

Both Scottish Borders Council’s Conservative-led administration and opposition group released their budget plans for 2020-21 and beyond on Tuesday, and both want to see the maximum allowed increase in council tax.

If approved, that will work out at an extra 42p a week for a band-D property over and above the additional 69p the rise of 3% previously budgeted for would have cost.

That will allow the council to tranform the fire-hit Peebles High School site at a cost of £30m and build new secondaries in Galashiels and Hawick, costing £50m and £48m respectively, within the next six years, as well as building new primaries in Earlston and Eyemouth costing £9m and £15m.

Almost £500,000 is also set aside to finish off the building of the new Jedburgh campus.

Last November’s fire at Peebles High has made this budget more difficult that it would otherwise have been, said Robin Tatler, the council’s executive member for finance.

“We will be rebuilding Peebles High School bigger and better so it will be fit for purpose and for the future,” said the Tweeddale East councillor.

“This is a £30m project which will be funded partly from the £10m insurance and £20m from capital borrowing.”

A change in the way school building is funded, forcing the council to find up-front money for new ones planned at Galashiels and Hawick, means it will have to increase council tax by 4.84% so it can stick to the timescales envisaged, according to Mr Tatler.

That rise will also provide an extra £2m to spend on the region’s roads infrastructure, the issue that came out on top in an online consultation process to assess priorities garnering 953 responses.

Two 60-bed care homes – one in Hawick and the other in the central Borders, to be in operation by the end of 2023 – are also included in the budget at a cost of of £18.5m.

Council leader Shona Haslam said: “There is an ever-growingpressure on our care system, meaning we need to provide an extra 77 care home beds within two years to meet demand.

“Our exciting plans will see 120 beds provided by the end of 2023, which will go a long way to putting us ahead of the curve of the demographic pressures that are coming in the years ahead.

“Without this vital investment, people will simply end up spending more time unnecessarily in hospital, or in accommodation which is not suitable and which makes it difficult to provide for their care needs.”

Proposed cuts to bus services, such as the Border Weaver linking Newtown and Gattonside, have been dropped for now, but public transport services will continue to be monitored.

The mainstays of both proposed budgets are similar, but there are a few variations.

The Scottish National Party-led opposition is pushing for the reinstatement of school librarians at a cost of £173,000, for instance.

It also proposes keeping some of the smaller playparks currently under threat, costed at £30,000 for their maintenance.

The opposition is also relaunching its previously-proposed Borders Decides initiative, based on a similar project in Dundee giving people power more of a role in decision-making.

Opposition leader Stuart Bell said: “We need to genuinely give people the power to decide their local priorities.

“Devolving a percentage of the roads and parks budgets for locally-governed decision-making is overdue. We’ve worked out how to do it and it’s now time to act.”

Projected council savings of £8m will mean a reduction of 40-plus real-time jobs over the next two years.

However, chief executive Tracey Logan said: “We have managed these processes for a few years now with minimal, if any, compulsory redundancies. There will be natural wastage.”

Both budgets will be debated next Wednesday.