SBC baulks at losing local control

Scottish Borders Council headquarters in Newtown St Boswells.
Scottish Borders Council headquarters in Newtown St Boswells.

The prospect of all Scottish Borders Council’s roads services, including winter gritting and emergency pothole repairs, being taken out of local control proved too much for senior elected members this week.

They had been asked to consider a proposal by the Scottish Government for the services, which employ over 400 staff, to be transferred to an Edinburgh, Lothians, Borders and Fife (ELBF) limited liability partnership.

“This flows from Scottish Government initiatives towards shared services generally,” said commercial services director Andrew Drummond-Hunt in a report to SBC’s executive on Tuesday. He said SBC and the five councils had many functions in common, including repairs and surveying, salt and gritting, traffic light maintenance and weather forecasting and officers from each council already met informally to share information and experiences.

However, under the ELBF model, such collaborations would be formalised and extended to include asset management, joint procurement, new road and street works, road safety, street lighting and staff training.

Mr Drummond-Hunt cautioned: “The council needs to ensure it retains access to resources to deliver roads services to at least the same standard as at present. In particular it would need to ensure it retains the capability to maintain gritting levels and responsiveness to reactive maintenance such as pothole repairs.”

Councillors agreed that SBC, while declining to join the ELBF at present, should adopt a “watching brief” which would allow the proposal to be revisited in future. The executive also agreed an internal review of all roads services should now be undertaken to determine the “best operating model” for in-house services.