Council’s £200m burden is revealed

SCOTTISH Borders Council is carrying a debt of almost £200 million.

Official Scottish Government figures have shown the extent of the local authority’s revenue debt up to 2011/12, which adds up to £195.9 million – the equivalent of £1,732 per person in the region.

That places SBC 16th out of Scotland’s 32 councils in terms of the size of its liability, and 11th on the table of highest debts per head of population.

Much of the council’s debt is associated with the near-£80 million cost of three PPP high schools at Earlston, Duns and Eyemouth.

John Lamont, Conservative MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, does not believe the current level of debt can continue.

He said: “There is no doubt that the level of debt held by local authorities not only in the Borders but across Scotland is hugely worrying.

“The SNP Government must recognise that money does not grow on trees and put in place a strategy to check the growing debt levels.

“To go on with each Borders resident having the equivalent of £1,700 worth of debt is clearly unsustainable.

“That is why I was pleased to see the Scottish Conservative group on Scottish Borders Council making several sensible suggestions to start getting debt levels under control.”

But David Robertson, SBC’s chief financial officer, said repayment of the debt is included in its revenue budget until the financial year 2017/18, despite the council also having to shave off £27million from its spending during that time.

Mr Robertson said: “The £196 million figure is the total debt associated with previous capital expenditure decisions as at March 31, 2012.

“This debt has been incurred building schools, roads, bridges and other vital public assets. This figure is below the Scottish average for local authority debt per head of population.

“The council’s capital expenditure decisions are regulated by the CIPFA prudential code which ensures that the costs of debt remain affordable and sustainable for the council over the longer term.

“The council’s five-year revenue budget, approved on February 7, contains the funding necessary to repay the debt associated with previous capital expenditure decisions and the costs of future planned capital investment in the Borders.”

Scottish local authorities combined debt has risen from £9.1 billion to £9.5 billion, working out at £1,810 per head of population.