Scottish Borders Council vows to continue fighting plans to cut number of ward members

Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall.

Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall.

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Scottish Borders Council has vowed to continue its opposition to plans to cut the number of councillors on its books by two.

The Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland is recommending to ministers that the authority’s roll call of ward members be reduced from 34 to 32, but the council intends to carry on its fight to keep the status quo.

Council leader David Parker said: “It is pleasing that the commission has listened to requests from the council in May 2015 and the public and has recognised the historical ties that Newcastleton and Hornshole have with Hawick.

“However, it is disappointing that the commission has retained its recommendation to reduce the number of councillors in the Scottish Borders from 34 to 32, despite calls from Scottish Borders Council in February to keep the current figure.”

Mr Parker, a ward member for Leaderdale and Melrose, said the council would make further representations to the Scottish Government later this month in the hope of changing its mind before a binding decision is made.

“A report will be taken to council on Wednesday, June 29, on the commission’s recommendations,” he said.

“This provides the council with an opportunity for further comments to Scottish ministers before they make a final decision.”

Hawick would be the Borders town hardest hit by the proposed changes announced last Thursday as it faces losing two of its six councillors.

Commission chairman Ronnie Hinds said: “The legislation which governs our reviews places equality of representation at the heart of what we do, and we have delivered a set of recommendations that significantly improves electoral parity across Scotland and so provides for fairer local democracy and more effective local government.”

The changes proposed would see the Hawick and Denholm and Hawick and Hermitage wards merged.

They would also result in Denholm and Bonchester Bridge becoming part of a new Jedburgh district ward.

Councillor Watson McAteer – one of three Hawick and Denholm ward members, along with Stuart Marshall and Alastair Cranston – said: “The new Scottish Government made a pledge that if elected, they would not make changes to boundaries if local communities were impacted and were against such a move.

“I encourage them to honour their promise and confine the review to the bin.

“Never has Hawick needed more not less representation than now as we face economic downturn, job losses, bus service cuts and a raft of other measures that will seriously impact our town and communities.”

Mr Marshall said: “Ministers now have a document in front of them that has the potential to reduce Hawick’s representation at council by two members.

“I hope ministers who have pledged to support those communities opposed to such action fight vigorously on our behalf.”

Borders MSP John Lamont is backing the council’s campaign against having its tally of councillors cut, saying: “There is a very strong feeling in the Borders that putting Hawick into a single ward will break the link between the town and surrounding communities.

“It is crucial that the Borders is properly and fairly represented and that any changes take into account the traditional geography of the region.

“Ten years ago, the Borders was represented by 58 councillors. By reducing the number of councillors and making the areas they represent larger, I’m concerned that their job to represent their constituents will be made all the more difficult.

“Before the Scottish Parliament elections, the SNP promised they would only support proposals which had the support of local communities.

“I now hope the SNP stands by their promise and rejects these proposals.”

The SNP’s MSP for the south of Scotland, Paul Wheelhouse, agreed, adding: “I am of the view that the creation of the new ward is unhelpful and undesirable, in that it reduces Hawick’s voice at a time of significant economic challenge for the town and surrounding district.

“However, while I am disappointed with the final recommendations to ministers, they are not binding, and the final decision ultimately rests with ministers.”