Lauder church and jail, by Curtis Welsh.
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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
HOMING IN ON A GIFT ON A PLATE
Once again an ill-informed, philistine councillor of the ‘Independent’ or Unionist persuasion has jumped up to decry the Great Tapestry of Scotland as a most dreadful waste of money.
Money that could be spent cutting the grass, says Councillor Davie Paterson (Southern, June 7).
There are two very odd things about these vituperative, knee-jerk reactions to the tapestry.
The first is lack of recognition of the value of the tapestry to the local economy. Tourism is hugely important to the Borders economy, employing more than 4,000 people directly and many more indirectly, and last year bringing over £194m to the area.
Although we have the undeniably-beautiful countryside to lure people here, the main tourist offering is the past, with more stately houses than even the most assiduous worshipper of the aristocracy might desire. This is ultimately dead-end tourism and to survive and grow its tourism, the Borders must broaden its appeal, come up to date, and while celebrating the past, acknowledge and embrace the achievements of the new Scotland.
It was a confident, far-thinking council in 2013, led by David Parker, which, recognising what a gift on a plate the tapestry was, decided to offer it a home, seizing the opportunities offered by the now hugely-successful Borders Railway (which many resisted – “waste of money, will never work” – at the time).
An outstanding work of art on any terms, it’s also contemporary and democratic. When it was first exhibited at Holyrood in 2013, over 50,000 people queued to see it. In Aberdeen, 53,000 came, and when it returned to Holyrood in 2014, more than 100,000 marvelled at it. In smaller towns, too, across the country, it’s been the same story, people flocking to experience one of Scotland’s finest works of art, telling the story of our nation in vivid, embroidered panels.Not made by one great, white male hand only, but by more than 1,000 stitchers, mostly, but not all, women. It connects in a real way with this region’s history of textiles and manufacturing, made great and profitable by a largely female workforce.
The second oddity is the sheer, unhinged vehemence of the tapestry’s detractors. Is it that they are baffled beyond endurance by art, or is it the specific Scottishness of this art that they abhor so much? I suspect a mixture of both.
Re grass cutting. Most of us have lawnmowers, and the fit and healthy of us who do might come out when the sun shines and do a bit of communal grass-cutting to enhance our communities, all by ourselves.
PUBLIC MUST TAKE SBC TO TASK
The community councils of Hawick, Jedburgh and Ancrum have become increasingly angered about the seemingly back-door tactics of Scottish Borders Council (SBC) in introduce a new regime regarding its grass-cutting schedule.
Since the beginning of May the schedule of grass maintenance has been halved from its usual 10 working-day cycle to a 20 working-day cycle without any proper consultation with any community organisation. Only in a briefing note sent to community councils during early May has SBC outlined what it wants the public to become involved with and what the review focuses on – grass cutting, bedding plant provision, public toilets and dog fouling.
All of these remits come under the neighbourhood services department, a department within SBC which seems to be failing the public that it serves on a daily basis.
Since 2008 towns that community councils represent have had economic hurdles to navigate to ensure the sustainability of our high streets and increasing difficulties in attracting visitors to spend their hard-earned cash.
One major attraction to the area is the beautiful surroundings that we live in and what was the neat, tidy and well-kept thoroughfares that we, along with the many hundreds of tourists, were able to enjoy throughout the growing period, usually from April to October, only for one swipe of SBC’s budget pen to remove all the hard work and effort built upon over many years.
Our main thoroughfares and amenity sites now look down-trodden, unkempt, uncared for and extremely unappealing for those that we wish to attract.
The knock-on effect this will have could be catastrophic, both economically and aesthetically.
It is SBC’s aim to save in the region of £200k by not employing summer staff to cut the grass – yet no summer staff were employed in Jedburgh, Kelso, Hawick or Ancrum to cut the grass, so no saving is being made here.
The current state of these areas are disgusting. The dandelion growth is nothing short of atrocious and will double their visibility as they have now seeded and spread across the grass areas. When these are eventually cut, they will look even worse, more like hay meadows.
Bedding plants are also at risk of complete removal in next year’s budget, with SBC banking on members of the public taking it upon themselves to plant the stunning beds that we have enjoyed for many years.
Public toilets have since May last year been a chargeable service, with a levy of 30p being placed upon any users of such facility Borders-wide.
We find this extremely difficult to understand considering that the then council administration and, in particular, Conservative opposition, who are now in charge, fought tooth and nail to have this decision removed from the budget proposal. So why are councillors now not willing to scrap the 30p charge on all public facilities? Why, when we want to attract visitors to the town and use and enjoy all that we have to offer, would the local authority implement such a charge, when this charge is not being re-invested in better and more complementary facilities?
I have no doubt that SBC will announce that because these facilities are not being used as much as they were, they will be closed, relying on independent businesses to open their doors for busloads of tourists to use their facilities.
The dog-fouling scheme introduced in 2016 in the Borders has been an unmitigated financial disaster, losing around £40k, a sum which would have gone a long way to halting the aforementioned cuts.
In an era when community empowerment is an industry catchphrase, we find decisions such as those highlighted completely unacceptable.
SBC officers and councillors alike have been told by the corporate management team to don their tin hats and wait for the flack to stop, and then carry on with the cuts to services that are detrimental to the whole of the Borders.
This is where you, the public, play your part.
If your voice is not heard by those that you elected into the positions that they now enjoy, then nothing will change – only a sustained barrage of complaints to SBC and councillors will work.
Social media plays a huge part in spreading the word. However, social media posts, tweets or snaps need to be followed up with emails and phone calls to your local councillors.
Many of these councillors are annoyed that members of the public and community councils have the audacity to challenge SBC’s administration – this shows the arrogance and contempt that they have towards the very individuals who elected them.
The executive member for neighbourhood services is Councillor Sandy Aitchison, and at the most recent meeting of the full council he intimated that he had very few complaints about the services outlined above – please change this.
(chairman, The Royal Burgh of Jedburgh Community Council)
A TAX ON RURAL SCOTLAND
The Scottish Government’s proposals to take millions of pounds worth of planning fees away from local authorities is, as Scottish Borders Council has said, “unreasonable, unfair and ill-judged”.
Had these proposals been in place over the last five years, this region would have lost £1.25m to what is, in effect, a tax on rural Scotland.
In your report about this money grab last week, you quoted the SNP’s Stuart Bell as saying that he had been assured privately by ministers that the money would go to local authorities. But this is at odds with their published proposals.
While I do not doubt the integrity of Councillor Bell, we cannot rely on reports of whispered conversations behind the scenes. We must have a public assurance from the nationalists that they are withdrawing this rural tax and that local authorities will be able to recoup in full the fees due for the work that is done on these big applications.
I have therefore invited Councillor Bell to join me in writing to the minister to seek a public guarantee that the Borders will not be penalised by the SNP in this way, and that we will receive the money that is due to us locally in the Borders.
Councillor Tom Miers
Leaderdale and Melrose ward
BANKING ON ANSWERS
I see from pages 8 and 35 of last week’s Southern that Borders MSP Christine Grahame continues to be outraged about RBS branch closures.
I can’t help feeling that the outrage is at least partly a bit of Tory bashing.
Your readers may know I’m not adverse to a bit of Tory bashing myself when I feel it’s justified, but Ms Grahame seems to be taking this on as she thinks RBS is owned by the Westminster Conservative government.
She makes good points about the impact on rural communities.
Given that is the case, I have to wonder why she didn’t put up the same fight to try and save the Bank of Scotland branch in Lauder, the only bank in town. The closure of the branch here, along with three other Borders branches, was notified in April 2017, with the actual closure in October 2017.
Bank of Scotland state that no objections were received from our MSP, or local councillors for that matter.
Why not? If RBS is such an issue, why not Bank of Scotland?
Maybe they forgot that Bank of Scotland, as part of the Lloyds group, was bailed out by the UK government as well.
I wonder if our ward councillors would also care to comment – David Parker, who was on the council before and after the local elections on May 8 last year, Kevin Drum and Tom Miers. I understand they’ve been in touch with RBS, why not Bank of Scotland? Is it a case of if it’s not Melrose or Tweedbank, it doesn’t really matter?
So many questions, but I’m sure the residents of Lauder – and probably Blainslie, Oxton and Earlston – would be interested in the answers.
West High Street
TRAPPED ON THE UK TRAIN
I suppose I should be flattered that Graham Holford (letters, June 7 ) takes the time and trouble to read my letters, and that he acknowledges my “undoubted literary skills”.
However, true to form, like the rest of your British nationalist “serial correspondents” who continually drone on about “Scottish Government bad – Union good”, he refuses to engage in serious debate regarding the relative merits of the Union versus self-determination.
All of these writers ( Scotland in Union?), many of them named in Richard Walthew’s letter published in the same edition, either refuse, or are unable to deny facts presented, or answer any of the questions asked.
They obviously would prefer that Scots (like our ostensible, but ineffectual, voice in the Westminster cabinet, David Mundell) simply accept the status quo, carry on as usual and remain passengers trapped on the UK train heading for the cliff edge on all fronts – our only hope is that UK transport minister Chris Grayling continues to make such a mess of things that the train is cancelled.
I’m tempted by Mr Holford’s suggestion that we “enjoy the garden and give politics a rest”.
I do enjoy my garden and life generally, but as long as Westminster, and he and his Unionist friends, refuse to accept that Scotland is a different country with its own particular needs, and plough on regardless with policies which might suit England ( particularly London ), but which harm and damage our country, then I’m afraid I must decline his offer of a “summer sabbatical” from letter writing.
I look forward to hearing some facts, not opinions – and yet more serious debate.
THUMBS-UP FOR SELKIRK SHED
A community questionnaire widely distributed around town in May showed overwhelming support for the establishment of a Selkirk Community Shed (SCS).
We had 572 responses – 552 being in favour, two against and 18 undeclared.
Thank you to all who responded. This will provide invaluable support for future grant applications to develop the shed.
The steering group wishes to express its sincere thanks for the time and effort expended by Selkirk Regeneration Company (itself a community-based charity run by volunteers) to support the initial development of Selkirk Community Shed and especially their work with Creetown Initiatives on the business plan, as well as allowing use of the pop-up shop for a day.
We would also like to thank the small band of folk who worked so hard on the pop- up shop day, those who helped with the door-to-door mailing of the questionnaires and the retail outlets that supported the initiative by handing out questionnaires to their customers. In particular we would like to thank the Co-op for allowing us to promote the initiative on the morning of the royal wedding and FA Cup.
As reported in last week’s Southern, the steering group has chosen to make the former Tweed Valley Mountain Rescue base at the Argus centre the hub for the Selkirk Community Shed. We are hoping to be in the building by August, if not sooner.
It is a community initiative and it needs support from members of the community – both in terms of using the facility and also in providing feedback and input to a small committee. Anyone interested in joining the SCS, or even those just curious to know more of what we hope to be doing there, should contact me on 01750 21214.
(on behalf of Selkirk Community Shed steering group)