Councillors set to continue talks on plan to outsource cultural services

Councillors will next week be given an update on progress – or the lack of it – towards transferring museums, libraries, public halls, and arts and community centres to the organisation which runs sports facilities in the region.

The report was ordered in February when, despite publicly-voiced misgivings, Scottish Borders Council agreed to open negotiations with the Borders Sport and Leisure Trust (BSLT) about taking over the non-statutory cultural services run by the local authority.

“The update will be submitted to the full council meeting on June 25,” said an SBC spokesperson. “In the meantime, talks are ongoing with BSLT.”

It is seven years since the council first approved in principle the transfer of cultural services, which employ around 200 people and cost £5million a year to run, to a stand-alone trust which would benefit from 95% rates remission and thus save SBC around £400,000 a year.

Last year a report warned that, if the transfer did not go ahead, then one large hall, one main library, one museum and one community centre could be forced to close.

In February the council heard that if talks with the BSLT, which runs 14 sports facilities and receives £2.5million in annual management fees from SBC, were unsuccessful then the original proposal to transfer to a stand-alone trust would be pursued.

Acknowledging the uncertainty among cultural services staff, several councillors expressed doubts that the BSLT was either willing or capable of taking over.

One of the sceptics was Lib Dem councillor Ron Smith who stated: “I remain to be convinced that our cultural services can sit with the market-oriented environment in which the sports trust operates. Our cultural services must be protected.”