SBC watchdog needs beefed up, says chairman

Gavin Logan
Gavin Logan

The internal body set up to monitor Scottish Borders Council should be strengthened with members who are not elected councillors.

That is the view of Councillor Gavin Logan, chairman of a scrutiny committee which currently comprises nine backbench councillors, six of whom come from the ruling SNP/Independent/Lib Dem administration.

At today’s full council meeting, Mr Logan, one of three Conservative opposition members on the watchdog, will propose that three non-councillors should be co-opted and should be eligible to sit on scrutiny’s ad hoc working groups.

“I believe external non-voting members will bring extra experience and skills to the important work we do,” said Mr Logan this week.

“That includes investigating issues of local concern to the constituents we represent.”

Following the 2012 council elections, the ruling administration at Newtown St Boswells agreed to abolish the scrutiny committee which, five times over the preceding four years, had “called in” decisions by the executive with which it disagreed.

However, a review of decision-making at the end of last year concluded that service committees which were supposed to monitor their own performance had failed to do so and recommended that scrutiny should be revived to restore “openness and accountability” to the way business was transacted at SBC.

Scrutiny is thus charged to monitor the performance of the council, undertake value for money investigations and, if necessary, call-in the decisions of a 16-strong executive which has now assumed the responsibilities of the defunct service committees.

Mr Logan will tomorrow cite the fact that two of these “themed” executive committees – education and economic development – already have non-voting members drawn from special interest groups.

And last month, the council agreed to add a third non-voting external member to its audit committee.

Mr Logan’s move comes after the role of the scrutiny committee as an objective honest broker was called into question recently.

It followed the committee’s appointment of a four-member working group, which included three councillors from the ruling administration, to investigate SBC’s controversial decision to invest £3.5m in a new visitor centre for the Great Tapestry of Scotland at Tweedbank.