SBC leader defends cultural services move

Southfield Lodge, Duns, is one of the community centres that transferred to the new Live Borders trust
Southfield Lodge, Duns, is one of the community centres that transferred to the new Live Borders trust

Creating a new charitable organisation to look after its cultural services is one way for Scottish Borders Council to tackle its financial challenges.

The local authority’s leader, David Parker, has admitted the transfer of museums, libraries, community centres and public halls to a newly-created charitable organisation – Live Borders – will help his council “address current challenging financial pressures”.

But he has also insisted the merger of the cultural services, and their 200 employees, with the similarly-staffed Border Sport and Leisure Trust (BSLT) is “not just about making savings”.

The integrated trust Live Borders officially became operational on Friday, the council publishing an award notice revealing that the Live Borders contract would be worth £121million, plus VAT, over the next 20 years.

In the financial year just ended, SBC spent £5.4million on its cultural services and also paid an annual management fee of up to £2.5million to the BSLT which operates 14 major sports facilities, including six swimming pools.

“The integrated trust is not just about making savings and I am confident our highly-regarded staff across cultural services will continue to modernise and improve services as part of Live Borders and provide the very best service for the region,” said Mr Parker.

“Cultural services are a good fit with those that the BSLT already provides.”

Like Mr Parker, BSLT chairman Peter Duncan, who served as the Tory MP for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale from 2001 to 2005, commended the creation of Live Borders. “Taking on all these new services is a fantastic opportunity and we are very fortunate to have gained an amazing amount of experience running the BSLT over the past 12 years,” said Mr Duncan.

“Live Borders will be able to give cultural services in this region the focus they deserve.

“These services are moving from being a very small element of the council’s extensive remit to becoming a major focus for our business.”

It is seven years since the council, seeking to trim expenditure on non-statutory functions, first approved in principle the transfer of cultural services to a stand-alone trust which would benefit from 95% rates remission.

The proposal remained on the backburner until November 2014 when councillors agreed to approach the BSLT about a possible merger.

A feasibility study, which began in February last year, concluded that an integrated trust was the best option to protect and enhance services while generating a saving of an estimated £400,000 a year.