On the face of it, First Group’s decision to run a previously-subsidised bus service on a commercial basis is good news for Scottish Borders Council.
It will, after all, save the local authority a six-figure sum, although how the firm will make the Kelso-Jedburgh-Hawick route run at a profit remains to be seen.
There are serious misgivings about what will happen if the service turns out to be unviable and if smaller competitors are no longer in business to go for a contract previously deemed “socially necessary”.
It is very much a sign of the times that private providers who depend on the public purse for their survival are looking to their laurels in bidding for all sorts of services from a council committed to making no compulsory redundancies of its own staff for the next three years.
Take, for example, SBC’s social work department which, in a bid to plug past and future funding gaps, has factored in a saving of more than £500,000 this financial year by transferring more of its care services to private providers and “renegotiating contracts for service delivery”.
Already we have heard of a longstanding provider losing out in a bidding war to deliver services for young carers, while the homelessness advice offered by Shelter is now judged unnecessary.
Notwithstanding the key role of public transport to the Borders, some social work services, such as caring for our elderly and vulnerable and supporting people with mental health issues, are arguably more important.
Yet existing and would-be private providers of such crucial services are having to drive down their costs to grab the contracts.
In these matters, the local authority must not be accused of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.
In some services it is quality, and quality alone, which counts.