Rebate sought as former councillor warns of a ‘two-tier Borders’

Selkirk library under threat of closure.
Selkirk library under threat of closure.

BORDERERS whose local public libraries will merge with council contact centres – with the loss of qualified librarians – should get a rebate on their Council Tax.

That was the radical demand this week from Gordon Edgar, chairman of Selkirk Community Council and a former senior elected member of Scottish Borders Council, which is preparing to consider detailed plans for the cost-saving shake-up.

At Monday’s community council meeting, Mr Edgar claimed: “Professional librarians will be lost and replaced with trained contact centre staff in seven towns, with the first integration about to take place in Duns and more to follow.”

Back in February, SBC agreed to investigate, as a cost saving measure, the merging of contact centres and libraries in seven Borders towns: Jedburgh, Kelso, Selkirk, Melrose, Innerleithen, Coldstream and Duns.

Although the saving was not quantified, it was stressed that contact centres across the Borders would have spare capacity, in terms of accommodation and staff, following the decision in March to halt all cash transactions for Council Tax and business rate payments.

But significantly, the public libraries in the larger settlements of Hawick and Galashiels are not being threatened under the review and these towns will continue to retain both facilities. In Peebles, the contact centre and library are already co-located in the Chambers Institution.

Mr Edgar said what was proposed for the seven towns was thus “inherently unfair”.

“I can understand if not sympathise that there has been a reduction in footfall at contact centres and that a merger with libraries will make some sense.

“But this should not be at the expense of qualified librarians’ jobs and the service offered by these professionals, particularly to older users.

“And if contact centres and libraries are to merge then they should do so across the board.

“If these plans are enacted, and I’ve no doubt they are a fait accompli, then patently the level of service offered to the people of Hawick and Galashiels will be of a higher quality than in Selkirk and the other targeted towns.

“It is simply not right to create a two-tier Borders and people getting a diminished service should be entitled to pay less for the provision.”

A spokesperson for SBC claimed the restructuring of libraries would have taken place even without the integration proposals which would ensure the services provided by both library and contact centres would be retained in the seven towns.

“The library proposals recognise and enhance the role of qualified librarians in developing services, but also recommend fewer qualified librarians within the structure than at present,” conceded the spokesperson.

“Two qualified librarians have already left through the voluntary redundancy/severance route and more may yet indicate this as a preference. No member of staff will be made compulsorily redundant.

“It is hoped that as part of the matching process, all staff will be offered a position within the new structure.

“The proposals will be presented to the council for consideration at a later date, but if they are approved, Duns will be the first site where integration will happen.”

Meanwhile, the February decision to close four of the region’s 12 registry offices in a bid to save nearly £50,000 a year has hit a few snags.

The Lauder office, which was only open two hours a week, has closed, but Selkirk remains open for appointments if customers are unable to get to Galashiels where all registrations are taking place. Two civil ceremonies are booked for the Selkirk office this month.

The promised new birth registration service in Jedburgh’s contact centre, following the closure of the Castlegate registry office, is not yet off the ground, with a journey to Hawick required for registrations. A customer service adviser is being trained to register births in the town and this could take a further three months.

And there is no change in Newcastleton where the council is “still looking at another option to continue appointments in the town”.