Your picture of the Week

Duns park, Polish and British War Memorials with seasonal flowers in the forground in April.
Duns park, Polish and British War Memorials with seasonal flowers in the forground in April.

Nature appears to be currently – albeit temporarily – upstaging the British and Polish war memorials in Duns Park with seasonal flowers. Borders freelance photographer Stuart Cobley supplied this image.

Please email photographic contributions, with a brief caption, to berwickshirenews@jpress.co.uk

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

WHAT DOES BANK CLASS AS REGULAR?

I read in last week’s issue of your sister title, The Southern Reporter, that my local Bank of Scotland branch in Lauder is to close.

Why did I have to find out this news via the local press?

Your article quotes a bank spokeswoman as stating: “... have informed customers of the closest alternative branch”. There are four account holders in my house – none of us received any notification.

The spokeswoman goes on to say only eight regular customers use the branch. I think the key term here is ‘regular’. The numbers may be low, but as the branch’s opening hours has already been cut to two days a week, that is hardly surprising.

All of my family use the branch – but not on what would be classed as regular basis. At least one of us uses the branch at least once a month. I’m sure most folk in the town do the same.

The closest branch to Lauder is Galashiels, noted as 10.32 miles away. That may be as the crow flies but, I’m not a crow. Like everyone else, I’d need to drive (using about £5 in petrol), or get buses and pay the fares.

Is the bank planning on refunding costs to those having to travel?

One final point, whatever happened to the promise regarding “the last bank in town” made by all the banks? Do they consider the Post Office and a cash machine at The Co-op as a viable alternative?

David Laing

West High Street

Lauder

NO END IN SIGHT TO WARD WOES

The campaign to retain Ward 2 at Belhaven Hospital continues, with recent disappointing news from a civil servant, Lauren Glen, on behalf of Shona Robson, Cabinet Secretary for Health, in response to an enquiry.

This confirms the health minister’s position as outlined last August that there is no commitment to provide the necessary funding to the East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership to upgrade the facility.

Just to remind readers: Ward 1 is not under discussion at present, as it is run by East Lothian Council as a nursing home for local residents needing extra care.

The ward which is threatened is Ward 2, where patients are admitted under the care of local GPs.

This has 12 beds and is currently used for end-of-life care for all ages of adults (there is no local hospice), 24-hour observation in a medical setting avoiding admission to an Edinburgh hospital, and also for temporary stays between acute hospital care and home while awaiting care packages.

Because Ward 2 has substandard facilities, and needs £500,000 to be upgraded to modern requirements, Ward 3 also comes into the discussion.

Currently, Ward 3 is supposed to be used for continuing NHS care, for people who cannot be cared for adequately in any other local facility. I understand that it is full up with a waiting list.

According to the letter from the Scottish Government, there is only one NHS long-term care patient, and the other beds are occupied by nursing home residents placed there by East Lothian Council.

In other words, Ward 3 is being used as an extension to Ward 1.

Currently, there is a review underway, including consultation with local GPs to look at admissions to Ward 2. It is not clear who else is involved with the review, nor when it will report.

The letter states that if the review finds that GPs can manage with fewer than the 12 beds in Ward 2 (how many fewer?), then Ward 3 will be used instead.

Where then will the patients currently accommodated in Ward 3 (and those with similar needs in the future) be cared for?

The letter suggests that these admissions would have to be reviewed by East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership.

Great expectations are placed on the new award-winning scheme ELSIE (East Lothian Service for Integrated care for the Elderly), which will soon introduce a 24-hour service. Note, however, that this is not the same as 24-hour care in a hospital setting. The hope that this will offer a service to bridge the gap for people who, in the past, would be admitted to Ward 2 is just that – a hope, not a viable plan.

Assurances are given that the Scottish Government will continue to support three functions at Belhaven hospital – GP admissions, NHS long term care and nursing home care purchased from the NHS by East Lothian Council.

Doing “more with less” is admirable if manageable.

However, it seems to me they are trying to squeeze a quart out of a pint pot.

Efforts by local people have so far been unable to budge the Scottish Government from its determination to close Ward 2.

Elisabeth Wilson (Dr)

(Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate for Dunbar and East Linton)

SET TO SPEND £712,328 A DAY

According to recent reports from Scottish Borders Council (SBC), a five-year revenue plan (2017-2022) totalling £1.3bn has been rubber-stamped by elected members.

A significant number of those councillors who voted through that massive budget will be seeking re-election next month. It is to be hoped all candidates contesting seats on SBC realise the awesome responsibility they will shoulder during their 1,825 days in office, deciding how to spend other people’s money as it flows into the local public purse.

The £1.3bn grand total works out at £260m a year, £5m a week, or £712,328 a day. SBC taxpayers must hope and pray these wannabe councillors from every political hue and none are up to the job, and deliver value while all of that cash passes through their hands.

There have been a few examples during the five-year term just ending which suggest a lack of rigorous financial screening by our elected representatives may have cost council ‘clients’ dear, while daft decisions such as the withdrawal of garden waste collections have left us angry and more than a little frustrated.

Those who are regular readers of our local weekly newspapers may be aware of the catastrophic liaison between Scottish Borders Council and waste management “specialists” New Earth Solutions (NES) and their useless partners which cost long-suffering taxpayers at least £2.4m.

The calamity evolved over four years after our councillors signed an £80m contract aimed at solving urgent refuse disposal issues. The deal included a £21m “cutting-edge” facility at Easter Langlee as an alternative to landfill. A collection of extremely expensive lawyers and consultants were assembled by the council, then commissioned to help with the delivery of the combined recycling and energy recovery plant.

But there appears to have been a decided lack of scrutiny of the NES accounts, as the company was already heavily in debt when it was handed the Borders contract. To compound matters, the form of technology sanctioned by councillors was completely untried and turned out to be completely unfit for purpose, despite a costly visit to the “pioneering” plant near Bristol.

Meanwhile, the crucial role of funder for the project was handed to an offshore investment fund called New Earth Recycling and Renewables (NERR), controlled and managed by Premier Group (Isle of Man) Ltd. The group had links to the tax haven of British Virgin Islands.

Between 2012 and 2015, NES and NERR provided a string of reasons and excuses on both technical and financial grounds for delays to their Borders scheme. Additional time was granted to tackle and fix problems, but the saga ended in farce when SBC and NES agreed to abandon the contract.

The local authority then resorted to “commercial confidentiality” to avoid having to make information about the failed venture available for public consumption; none of the regulatory bodies, including Audit Scotland, thought the debacle warranted an investigation into the council’s activities, despite the loss of a significant amount of public money; and it was “business as usual” for SBC after councillors and officers agreed to blithely write off the entire £2.4m loss.

For the record, NES Group is in the hands of administrators and about to be consigned to the dustbin of waste management history, while NERR is in the process of being wound up with insufficient funds to even pay the liquidators, so how were they ever going to find £21m for Easter Langlee? And Premier Group has gone belly-up too, and will also be dissolved.

Investors, shareholders and creditors in all three businesses have been warned they will not get their money back.

So before casting your vote on May 4, try to work out which candidates are best qualified to watch over that impressive daily figure of £712,328. There may be some who fail the test of fiscal competence.

Bill Chisholm

Jedburgh

QUESTION FOR INDEPENDENTS

After the council elections, every SNP vote will be trumpeted by Nicola Sturgeon as a vote for a second independence referendum.

Already the uncertainty of Separation Attempt 2 has caused the Scottish economy to contract while the rest of the UK is powering ahead.

We do not need the political bedlam of another two years of fratricidal strife. That will only harm the economy further.

You may love or loathe the Tories, but the Conservative and Unionist Party is a bulwark against separation and every vote for them is a vote to protect our place in the Union. Similarly, Liberal Democrat and Labour candidates are mandated to maintain our place in the UK, the world’s sixth largest economy, which is keeping Scotland afloat.

The Unionist parties didn’t ask for independence to be on the agenda less than three years after it was said to be settled for a generation. But now that it is, the separation question will permeate all levels of politics.

Given that this is the case, then there’s the question of the political affiliation of independent candidates. Councillor David Parker, for example, was unstinting in his support for the break-up of the UK in 2014.

I doubt he has changed his mind. But if so, perhaps he and other independents would let the electorate know before the vote how they stand on this issue which Nicola Sturgeon has deemed more important than matters of domestic policy.

William Loneskie

Oxton

THE MADNESS OF BREXIT

After centuries of conflict across continental Europe and the carnage of two world wars, wise heads came together and created what eventually became the European Union.

In creating peace and prosperity which has lasted nearly 70 years, it has served its purpose well.

But then came the collective madness of Brexit, and all the chaos we are about to endure which is being exacerbated by an inept Conservative government.

When it was suggested that Spain could have a say in the future of Gibraltar, out of the decaying woodwork emerged Lord Howard, a political dinosaur from another age, to claim that Britain could defend Gibraltar by going to war against Spain.

So the first country to leave the EU threatens to wage war against it – precisely what the union was set up to prevent.

As the shambles and crudity that is Number 10’s negotiating position becomes ever more apparent with its clumsy threats and blackmail tactics, it sometimes seems that the only politician with a grasp of the looming disaster is Nicola Sturgeon.

Richard Walthew

Whitsome Crofts

Duns

NATIONALISTS ARE NOT SOCIALISTS

I see the First Minister of California – sorry, Scotland – has spoken in defence of globalisation.

At last the mask has slipped. Nicola Sturgeon has revealed her true self.

Let us hear no more nonsense about she and her government being socialists – they are Tories, neo-liberal capitalists who, despite their protestations, owe allegiance to no country, but to the mighty dollar/euro.

This is no surprise to me as I am old enough to remember the late Donnie B. McLeod, MP for the Western Isles, who stated: “The SNP is not a socialist party.” I took him at his word. Gordon Wilson, Alex Salmond, John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon have, by their actions as opposed to their words, all proved it.

I know why Ms Sturgeon wants to join the big business tool that is the European Union, but I still do not understand the attraction of EU membership for the SNP’s working class supporters. Why ditch “London Rule” for “Berlin Rule”?

C. Beagrie

Tweedbank

GUIDES’ COFFEE MORNING

On behalf of Coldstream Guides, I would like to thank everyone for their support on Saturday, April 1, at our coffee morning.

There was a great turnout. We cleared an amazing £300.

Thank you to everyone who gave raffle prizes and cake and candy, and helped in any way on the morning. Thank you girls and mums for all the baking and help. We really appreciate this boost to our funds.

Elizabeth Reid

(Guide leader)

Lennel Mount

Coldstream