Budget is ‘packed full of goodies’ claim as council confirms 3% tax rise

Scottish Borders Council’s budget for the coming financial year has been set with a three per cent Council Tax hike endorsed among other measures ‘packed full of goodies’, according to a local authority boss.

By Paul Kelly
Wednesday, 23rd February 2022, 1:29 pm
Scottish Borders Council building in Newtown.
Scottish Borders Council building in Newtown.

A meeting of the full council yesterday, Tuesday, February 22, voted to rubber-stamp the Conservative-independent administration’s proposed budget for 2022/23.

Shona Haslam, the council’s executive member for finance and budget oversight, described the package as a “budget for recovery”.

She said: “For the last two years our focus has rightly been on the pandemic and supporting services through the pandemic but now we have to look to the future and on how we can build the Borders beyond where we were before.

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“This budget invests in our roads with £95.1m committed to our road network, plus an additional £1.35m to target high profile, high priority local road schemes.

“We are continuing to invest in our programme of play areas and outdoor community spaces that have proved to be so popular over the last few years, with new facilities committed in Duns, Jedburgh, Peebles, Reston, Earlston and Eyemouth, the length and breadth of the Borders.”

Investment is also pledged for the provision of mobile CCTV cameras, together with an increase in the council’s events budget to attract tourism and staycationers, in addition to the introduction of a demand-responsive mini-buses pilot scheme.

Councillor Haslam said a three per cent Council Tax rise was being introduced in part because the local authority has been forced to make £63.4m worth of savings since 2017.

She added: “With a fair funding settlement the council would not have to constantly increase Council Tax and I’m pleased this year that we were able to keep the increase below inflation and I welcome the funding made available to the Scottish government from the UK government to assist with payments. As a result those in Bands A to D will be paying less than they did last year.”

Councillor Stuart Bell, SNP opposition leader, questioned the Conservative-led administration’s borrowing policy.

He said: “This council is forecasting to be paying on average £21.5m every year in interest costs. An argument can be made to borrow now because interest rates are low, but even at low interest rates the money needs to be repaid.

“Look again at the revenue budget. Think for a moment what services might be provided if just a small part of that £21m wasn’t tied up financing borrowing.”

Councillor Mark Rowley, the leader of Scottish Borders Council, added: “The budget itself is packed full of goodies and I’m delighted that we have listened to people, we’ve listened to school communities, that’s why there is 75 more teachers. We’ve listened to the kids who can’t get to college and the pensioners that can’t get to a supermarket, which is why there is over £300,000 in a really innovative pilot going into Berwickshire to support Reston. We’ve listened to communities. New schools are going to be built, GP surgeries are being built, new primary schools are being built.”

Three proposed amendments to the council’s budget put forward by the SNP opposition group – measures to extend food waste collection, increase tree planting cover and for the purchase of two new electric street sweeping vehicles – were defeated.