Borders SNP councillors reject Tory plea to work together

Tweeddale East councillors Stuart Bell and Shona Haslam.
Tweeddale East councillors Stuart Bell and Shona Haslam.

A call for councillors to work together on a major policy document has been rejected by the Scottish National Party group on Scottish Borders Council.

That plea for consensus was issued last month by the authority’s new Conservative leader, Shona Haslam, in an email to all 12 opposition members.

Tweeddale East councillor Haslam – one of 15 Conservatives returned in May and now heading a coalition with seven independents – tells them she is pulling together a “governing document” outlining her administration’s policies, priorities and targets over the next five years.

“Party politics rarely come into local government, and I am keen to ensure the governing document of this council reflects all the good ideas that were brought forward during the election campaign,” she states.

“Our calls for better schools, better roads and better services were reflected across party lines, and I am hopeful that on many of these issues we can move forward with consensus.

“Therefore I would like to hear your views on the direction and purpose of this new council.”

Mrs Haslam has offered group or face-to-face meetings, by appointment, with all opposition councillors to discuss priorities, adding: “I cannot promise to include everything you want, otherwise it would be a very long document, but please come prepared to discuss what it is you want to see happen.”

Fellow Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell, leader of the nine-strong SNP opposition bloc at Newtown, has declined Mrs Haslam’s invitation to collaborate, however.

“This shows that, instead of policies to address the many challenges facing this region, the Tories have a blank sheet of paper,” he told the Southern. “It is up to them to write on it first rather than pool someone else’s ideas.

“This request is hardly surprising given that, unlike the SNP and the Lib Dems, they went into the May council elections without a meaningful manifesto for local government, proclaiming instead on boards at every polling station that they opposed a second Scottish independence referendum.

“There was certainly little evidence of consensus at the council meeting on May 18, when the SNP was summarily excluded from the new administration’s executive committee.

“That showed a lack of respect for our views and I have responded to Mrs Haslam on behalf of my group telling her that leadership is more than stating you will do what the public wants you to do.

“Our group does not intend subsuming our clear political views into a compromise shaped by Mrs Haslam.”

Mrs Haslam said this week that she was disappointed that the SNP had chosen not to be part of the process.

“I have had helpful input from other opposition councillors, and I remain committed to meeting with colleagues of all parties to discuss ideas, pull together thoughts and identify joint priorities in the best interests of the people we represent,” she added.

She said a draft of the governing document, to include a corporate plan from council officers, outlining outcomes, impacts and key performance indicators, would be drawn up this month, with a final draft to be presented to all councillors for approval on Thursday, August 24.