Scottish Borders Council freezes council tax for 2021/22 as budget agreed

Scottish Borders Council’s five-year revenue budget and ten-year capital plan was decided by councillors on Friday with a Council Tax freeze agreed for 2021/22.

The money for significant investment in frontline services including transport infrastructure, early years education and the continued transformation of the council’s digital services has also been approved by the council.

A £3m fund to support the council’s response and recovery to the COVID-19 pandemic has also been agreed, providing further aid to business and communities affected throughout the remainder of and following the pandemic.

Councillor Mark Rowley, executive member for economic regeneration and finance, said: “Despite the significant financial challenges COVID-19 has presented over the last year, the administration has been able to present a robust budget that continues to focus on how council services can be improved and expanded upon.

“This is a budget which addresses many of the immediate challenges facing the region. It seeks to Build Back a Better Borders as we recover from the pandemic; helping our towns, protecting jobs, expanding early years childcare, protecting our most vulnerable people and investing in infrastructure that will enhance our communities, protect our environment and reduce our carbon foot print.

“By prioritising how our services can be delivered more efficiently and effectively throughout communities through the use of new technologies, and investing more in vitally important frontline areas, we can improve the well-being and quality of life of all Borderers.”

Over £74m within the ten-year plan will be dedicated towards investing in the road and transport infrastructure with a further £44m in the five-year revenue plan.

The process of updating and modernising the learning estate infrastructure over the next ten years will see £198m invested in new and improved schools.

The continued digital transformation of the council will see £28m invested to establish itself as a Smart Rural Region, by harnessing new technologies to adapt to the changing way customers are interacting with the Council and accessing services, which has been accelerated by the coronavirus outbreak.

Dedicated support for younger generations starting off in education will also receive significant investment, with £1m funding the creation of a further 34 full-time roles to expand the early years programme across the region.

Councillor Sandy Aitchison, depute leader and executive member for sustainable development, said: “Our communities and organisations have been hit hardest by COVID-19, and it is our responsibility as a Council to do everything possible to support and revitalise them.

“An extensive amount of investment has been allocated for this purpose, with a long-term focus, in order to build back stronger and more vibrant communities.

“We recognise the financial pressures that many have been experiencing throughout these unprecedented times and the Council Tax freeze agreed by members will help individuals and families across the region throughout this period.”

A major focus within the budget is to help revitalise local communities and organisations as they emerge from COVID-19. This will be supported by a £500k ‘Build Back a Better Borders’ fund will be used to revitalise local communities and organisations as they emerge from COVID-19.

A £250k fund has been dedicated to create five new jobs which will support local communities, giving them the necessary skills and resources to provide and manage services to meet public need.

It will also empower communities to contribute towards a programme of Locality Place Planning aimed at sustaining towns and villages across the Borders. This will see businesses and communities working together to identify the specific needs and investment individual settlements will require to allow them to thrive in the future.

Working towards a greener future by increasing the Council’s focus on sustainability and tackling the climate emergency features heavily throughout this budget.

Prioritising action against climate change will see £11m dedicated towards energy efficiency works over the next 10 years and the creation of two new full-time posts covering sustainability and food growing to help deliver community-based strategies in response to the climate emergency.

Addressing immediate flooding concerns across the region will also take precedence, with the delivery of a £91m Flood Protection Scheme in Hawick and a further £3.8m for flood and coastal protection across the region. A specific feasibility study for Newcastleton will also be undertaken to identify the best options for flood protection after a series of devastating flooding events in recent times.

Other budget highlights include: 

  • Overall £314.6m revenue budget for 2021/22 and £580m 10-year capital plan.
  • £198m for new and improved education facilities, including a new primary school and Early Years facility in Eyemouth, a new Earlston Primary. School and new secondary schools for Galashiels, Hawick and Peebles.
  • £28m for digital transformation programmes, delivering new and improved digital services, including 24/7 access, improved functionality for customers to report issues and streamlining back office functions to save administration time and costs, freeing up investment for other areas.
  • Minimal staffing impact, with vast majority of post reductions managed through natural turnover and vacancies.
  • £74.3m investment into roads and transport infrastructure over the next 10 years, recognising this is a priority area for Borderers.
  • All savings for 2021/22 as outlined in the 2020/21 approved Administration budget plan.
  • £23m for the provision of two new care home facilities in Galashiels and Hawick.
  • A £91m Flood Protection Scheme in Hawick.
  • Over £3m dedicated towards the council’s COVID-19 response and recovery operation.
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