A KEY condition demanded by SNP councillors when they joined the ruling coalition after the council elections last year was to hold summer meetings of Scottish Borders Council at different parts of the region away from Newtown St. Boswells. In accordance with this agreement, three meetings have now taken place at Peebles, Kelso and Eyemouth. To date there has been a serious lack of public interest with only two or three members of the public turning up at the three towns visited.
The lack of public interest would indicate that this expensive exercise has met with public apathy and is certainly not achieving the aim of making the decision-making process more open and accessible to people in different parts of the Scottish Borders. Members of the public act as spectators and are not allowed to participate so they achieve nothing.
Comments made about the future of the SBC roadshows reveal that SNP councillors are determined to continue with this expensive exercise. Tweeddale SNP Councillor Stuart Bell, executive member for economic development, robustly defends the roadshows and claims that this is not just a simple matter of costs and accounting, but a principle of open government. He is also quoted as saying that travel costs can be kept low with car sharing and any extra cost is small.
Councillor Bell should know that keeping costs low is not possible. The extra time and travel required by key people who have to attend such meetings away from St Boswells does not come cheap. These include the chief executive and a number of senior officials, many of whom are on six-figure salaries, plus a council legal team.
Councillor Bell’s aim to keep travel costs low by sharing transport is a joke. A visit to the SBC website shows that expense claims submitted by our own six local elected members who represent the two Hawick wards tell a different story.
At Peebles, four of our councillors attended the meeting, all travelled in their own cars, and all claimed mileage allowance. At the Kelso meeting, six of our councillors were present and travelled independently, five of whom certainly claimed mileage. The sixth claim could not be accessed on the website.
The publication of the expenses claims for the potentially more lucrative August meeting in Eyemouth is awaited with interest.
Hopefully good sense will prevail and the SBC roadshow extravaganza will come to a sudden halt. Such unnecessary expenditure is surely unacceptable when we have real hardship being experienced by many people living in the two Hawick wards. As well as having areas of deprivation, many households exist on the lowest incomes in Scotland and to our shame, child poverty is not unknown.
And who would ever have believed that Hawick would experience a time when a food bank would struggle to cope with demand?