Targeting the most vulnerable

I wonder what slide rule they use nowadays at Scottish Borders Council (SBC) when they sit round the new tables in the council chamber to discuss that perennial chestnut – cutbacks?

Just a glance at your headlines last week would suggest that it is a target painted on the backs of the most vulnerable in our community that the arrows are being fired at – and I would suggest that they are wrong, wrong, wrong.

On your front page, just for starters, was the revelation that a vital service in Galashiels at the focus Ability Centre is to be closed down, even if it does perform a great service in spite of management attempts over the past few years to chase users away. Now that a new management is in place is surely the wrong time to be cutting the service out completely. Surely building is where we should be at this once-excellent facility.

Further down the same page, Bob Burgess reveals that the community safety warden service, which has been held up as a fine example in other areas of Scotland, is to be axed. This service helps the police and helps householders who have been the target of antisocial behaviour, as well as helping to bring down the incidence of dog fouling across the Borders.

In this past year the wardens have also volunteered and have helped at common ridings and festivals. The fact that they had to volunteer for this stewarding work surely reveals that SBC is not using these dedicated workers to full advantage and have only ever paid lip-service to such a facility. At a time when the single police force is about to be visited upon an unsuspecting Scotland, this is totally the wrong time to lose a local service such as the wardens.

Elsewhere we are told that there will be “tough choices in terms of some changes in service”, which usually means that there will be cuts, and where that doesn’t happen there will be a rise in charges, for instance, in home care or meals for our elderly citizens. It also is revealed in the same story that the administration intends to “look again at pre-school provision” which will almost certainly mean fewer places and fewer hours.

The sports and leisure trusts, which were handed field sports, along with swimming pools, last year are also expected to take a hit in funding.

And although there is a mention that the roads revenue budget is to be protected, it is already obvious that that is simply not true. Gritting of B roads is being put on the back burner, so that routes like the Selkirk-Ettrick B7009 and the longest B road in Scotland, the B709 from Heriot to Langholm via Innerleithen, Tushielaw and Eskdalemuir, will not be gritted unless the A roads and the trunk roads are already fully covered.

In a word, the old will suffer, the young will suffer, the most vulnerable will suffer, and those who choose to live in a rural area, along with those who have to work there, will all be hit because SBC cannot balance the books.

It makes one wonder what these people have been doing since coming to power in May when they only managed to hold their first education committee meeting last week.

Perhaps a few less “golden handshakes” to departing senior officials and a pay structure for councillors, especially the part-timers, which reflect their actual attendance could make up a whole lot of the shortfall and we can get back to reality and provide a real service for the electorate.

Kenneth Gunn

Halliday’s Park