Full upfront funding for two new care homes agreed in Scottish Borders budget

The money required to deliver three secondary schools, two new care homes and extra investment in the Borders’ road network has been agreed.

Scottish Borders Council’s five year revenue budget and 10-year capital plan were agreed this week, with the Administration’s proposals being approved by 21 votes to 11, with one abstention.

Due to changes to the Scottish Government’s funding model for schools the full upfront costs of replacing the secondary schools in Galashiels and Hawick will have to be funded by the council, and as such an increase of 4.84% in Council Tax has been needed to raise the necessary funds, rather than the previously anticipated 3% increase. Investment to bring forward a major transformation of Peebles High School is also included in the budget.

In the years prior to the delivery of these schools, the £2.2m extra raised by the extra 1.84% Council Tax will be allocated to roads repairs in response to feedback received from Borderers who took part in the online consultation over the council’s budget. The increase will also facilitate the building of two 60-bed care homes, one in Hawick – to replace the ageing Deanfield facility – and another in the central Borders.

Council leader, Councillor Shona Haslam, said: “The decision to increase Council Tax has not been an easy one, however there really was little choice this year.

“On the face of it the financial settlement from the Scottish Government provided slightly more money for the council than last year, but there are increasing restrictions on how this can be spent and the increase does not reflect the rising cost of delivering services.

“Not raising Council Tax above 3% would simply have resulted in cuts to frontline services and significant delays to the delivery of vital projects, which would fail to address the needs of both our young people and our ageing population.

“With the extra 42p per week, based on a Band D property, raised by the extra 1.84% we are able to invest extra money into our road network, which Borderers told us through the budget consultation was their top priority. It will also leverage the full up-front funding required to replace Galashiels Academy and Hawick High School, transform Peebles High School and deliver two much-needed care homes.

“It is important to emphasise that the money raised by the extra 1.84% will be allocated to these projects only, while the underlying funds from the already anticipated 3% increase will protect frontline services.”

Councillor Robin Tatler, executive member for finance, added: “We recognise that increasing the cost of Council Tax will impact on people’s pockets, but we have to balance that with their desire for services to continue to be provided at the same level as before, at the very least, and increasing need for some services that we absolutely have to provide.

“Even allowing for this increase we will still have one of the lowest Council Tax rates in Scotland and there are a range of discounts available to people, which we are going to make sure that everyone is aware of to ensure that those that are eligible get the help they are entitled to.”

Budget highlights included:

  • £287m of investment across a variety of projects and works which will reduce the Council’s carbon footprint and adapt to climate change
  • £83.6m over 10 years for roads and infrastructure
  • Almost £1.5m over the next three years for town centre regeneration
  • Nearly £4m to improve and refurbish sport and leisure facilities
  • £18.5m for two new residential care homes
  • £50.8m for a new secondary school in Galashiels
  • £48.4m to replace Hawick High School

Councillor Sandy Aitchison, depute leader, said: “Over the next five years the council has to make almost £29m of savings, starting with over £8m next year.

“This is a challenge that gets harder every year, which is why we continue to focus on how services can be delivered more efficiently and effectively without negatively impacting on our communities, including looking at the use of new technology.

“However, there are many positive stories in this year’s budget and despite the financial challenges we are able to deliver vital services to the public and invest in major projects which will support communities for many years to come.”

Meanwhile, Scottish Borders Council has launched a consultation into the future expansion of Tweedbank which could include a new residential development, business space and a new care home.

Views can now be made on ‘Tweedbank – A Vision for Growth and Sustainability’ – the draft Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) here.

The 12-week consultation opened on Friday 21 February and runs until Friday 15 May, while a public exhibition will be held in Tweedbank Community Centre on Wednesday 4 March from 2pm to 8pm.

The guidance is a key component of the Tweedbank Masterplan, a transformational prospectus which will encourage people to live, learn, visit and work in the local community.

The draft SPG provides direction on the development of new residential and high-quality business space within Tweedbank, with 350 jobs estimated to be created and the potential to generate £150m of Gross Value Added (GVA) to the Borders economy.

The draft SPG - which was approved by councillors in January - also includes the potential for a new care home, while other areas of land are safeguarded such as higher quality existing woodland.

Views from the consultation will be considered as part of the final SPG which is due to be presented again to councillors for approval later this year.

The Tweedbank site will make a significant contribution to the housing land needs which have to be made in order to meet Scottish Government requirements.

The SPG also supports the council’s commitment to the Edinburgh and South East City Deal, and the Borders Railway Blueprint programme.

Councillor Tom Miers, Scottish Borders Council’s executive member for planning and environment, said: “Consultation is key to the Tweedbank SPG in order to create a successful, integrated new community. We are asking people to contribute to this SPG, which is a vital document for the future of the village, and the Scottish Borders.”

Councillor Mark Rowley, SBC’s executive member for business and economic development, added: “This is a great opportunity to have your say on the Tweedbank SPG, which alongside the Borders Innovation Park, will provide a transformational range of homes, high-quality commercial premises and recreational opportunities which will deliver significant benefits for the whole of the Scottish Borders.”

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