Scottish Borders Council budget for next year passed despite opposition

Council leader Shona Haslam, accompanied by councillors George Turnbull and, right, Sandy Aitchison with this year's budget.
Council leader Shona Haslam, accompanied by councillors George Turnbull and, right, Sandy Aitchison with this year's budget.

A Scottish Borders Council budget for next year including a 3% rise in council tax and up to 35 job losses was approved this week despite unprecedented opposition.

Addressing members at a special meeting of the authority on Tuesday, council leader Shona Haslam insisted that her Conservative-led administration’s financial plan would deal with what she described as a “demographic time-bomb” facing the Borders.

Fellow Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell, leader of the council’s Scottish National Party/Liberal Democrat opposition group, slammed the plan agreed as a “missed opportunity”, however.

Having put forward an opposition budget for the first time in the unitary authority’s 22-year history, he also hit out at the administration’s plan for including £259,000 more in cuts than his group had proposed.

Borderers will see a 3% rise in their council tax bills – up from £1,116 to £1,150 for a band-D property – to help fund the agreed spend.

The budget agreed this week includes £4.8m for a dementia care facility at a site yet to be decided and a further £1.4m for upgrading other residential care facilities.

An additional £1.2m has been earmarked to tackle mental health problems among teenagers, with a further £89m to be invested in the region’s school estate over the next 10 years.

More than £22m is to be invested in roads and bridges over the next three years as part of £79m to be spent over the next decade.

Mrs Haslam said: “Working with partners such as the children’s charity Aberlour, local youth work providers, schools, colleges, business and transport providers, we will allow young people to have the support they need to succeed, the facilities they require to excel and the skills that our businesses require for their workforces.

“At the other end of the spectrum, we are investing in elderly care and dementia services, with an additional £4.8m identified to provide dementia care provision.”

She also promised that the council would facilitate community-led projects such as nature trails and skate parks.

“Our communities are at the heart of our vision document,” she said. “Towns such as Selkirk and Kelso have done a lot to deliver community projects, but it shouldn’t be so hard.

“In this budget, we have committed £2.8m over the next four years to help communities deliver these facilities. If you have the idea, we have the means.”

However, Mr Bell said that an £11,000 funding cut for Citizens Advice would negatively impact upon the most vulnerable people in the Borders.

“Despite us having comprehensive alternatives, the council voted down our budget as a whole, completely missing the opportunity to incorporate some of our innovative ideas about a fairness fund or cleaner communities into their proposals,” he said.

The ruling administration’s financial plans were approved by 21 votes to 11.