registrar offices and council contact centres could be closed as Scottish Borders Council looks to save over £1 million from its customers services budget.
In Berwickshire the only casualty could be Coldstream Contact Centre, which together with Innerleithen Contact Centre, is described as a satellite centre and is only open one day a week for less than six hours.
As Scottish Borders Council moves away from cash payments of Council Tax and other bills directly into their offices, in favour of direct debits and online payments, it is estimated that the saving will be £20,000. And today, Thursday, Feburary 10, when councillors decide on the 2011-2012 budget they will also look at making further savings by closing Coldstream Contact Centre, where business is likely to reduce by 71 per cent, and Innerleithen which is estimated to see a 59 per cent reduction.
An alternative to closure would be combining council contact centre services with library services and work is still going on to establish whether this would be a viable option.
If this was to happen then rather than Coldstream and Innerleithen losing the contact centre service altogether, both towns along with others could see the services moving into the local library.
“Consideration is being given to integrating contact centres and libraries in the towns of Jedburgh, Kelso, Selkirk, Melrose, Innerleithen, Coldstream, Duns and potentially Eyemouth,” reads the report in front of councillors.
“This would also include the Registration service, where possible, so that all services are located in the same place, and by having generic customer services staff, the new integrated service can provide better access to services.”
In Lauder, Jedburgh, Selkirk and Newcastleton the low level of registrations has prompted the council to look at closing the permanent registration offices, offering emergency home visits where customers cannot get to their nearest office.
In some cases, such as registering of births, staff at contact centres will be trained to deliver the service but they will not be able to carry out other work done by professionally trained registrars.
Decisions on these council services will be considered as councillors set their budget for next year, against a background of a reduction in funding that is likely to continue for the next five years. The council has accepted the £7.6 million (2.6 per cent) reduction in Scottish Government funding in exchange for keeping Council Tax levels the same for the fourth year in a row (£1,084 for Band D homes).
The council will also have to keep a general reserve fund for unforeseen expenditure, of between 2-4 per cent, and they plan to keep aside a balance of 2.2 per cent (£5.9 million) should they need to deal with severe winter weather, further economic downturn, flooding, legal claims, severance/early retirement costs.
Dealing with winter weather is particularly difficult for councils and Scottish Borders Council is looking to develop a funding system that: can deal with the variations in spending; is robust enough to cope with a one in ten year storm; ensures predictable revenue; and recognises the importance of keeping the region’s roads clear in the winter.
A review of winter maintenance is currently underway and a proposal is expected to be ready by the sping, in the meantime they are looking at ‘top slicing’ revenue funding for winter maintenance of £2.7 million each year over the next three years.