A FAILURE to publish details of credit card spending by top brass at Scottish Borders Council has been blamed on "changes to staff roles and responsibilities".

The use of credit cards by the Newtown St Boswells-based local authority has stirred controversy in the past with local MP John Lamont obtaining the payment details through Freedom of Information.

But after a flurry of disclosures for 2014 and 2015 coupled with a declaration that "we are committed to regularly publishing details on our credit card spending" there has been no more bills released for 2016, 2017 or 2018.

A further FOI request recently by retired journalist Bill Chisholm for the backdated information has been met with a response that council chiefs plan to publish three years' worth of facts and figures in February.

And, they claim, because they have stipulated a specific publication date within 12 weeks of the FOI request being lodged they do not need to prove details in the response.

Mr Chisholm has been a long-standing critic of the council over its lack of transparency.

The saga of credit card expenditure at SBC stretches back over almost a decade.

Mr Lamont's January 2014 disclosure revealed there had been nearly 1,000 transactions over the previous three years with two departments – the chief executive and environment & infrastructure – emerging as the most prodigious users of plastic cards.

Lists of all items and services bought by this method were released by Mr Lamont who claimed Borderers would be “staggered” at the level of spending.

At that time the Border Telegraph reported a council statement which said:“Elected members play no part in sanctioning the use of the credit card…”

The list provided to Mr Lamont showed that, between April, 2012 and November 2013, the chief executive’s department made credit card purchases worth £28,398, compared to £18,057 between November, 2010 and March, 2012.

A statement from Mr Lamont’s office noted: “The chief executive’s credit card included several purchases from Amazon totalling hundreds of pounds.

“There were also several purchases from iTunes as well as money spent at bars and restaurants.

“Meanwhile, the environment & infrastructure departmental spend was mainly on accommodation and travel, although it did include items such as a woman’s jacket and a man’s fleece.”

The subsequent transactions for 2014 and 2015 remain posted on the council's website.

Examples included on the chief executive's list of purchases include three payments totalling over £135 to the Conciliation & Arbitration Service for mediation training; accommodation for the 2015 General Election count in June 2015 (£127.15) and a foreign exchange fee for a European Commission event (£1.05).

In the same year the Corporate Transformation Service at SBC used its card to pay shipping and insurance costs associated with the acquisition of Mungo Park's trunk (£991.48) and accommodation for seven at the Tomorrow's People Awards (£452.50).

But unfortunately the information trail ends in December 2015 with no further details published since then.

The recent FOI request by Mr Chisholm to the council asked 'Unfortunately details of corporate credit card spending for 2016, 2017 and 2018 have never been published. A – why?; and B – Please provide full details of credit card spending by the council officers listed on the web page for those “missing” years of 2016, 2017 and 2018.'

In response to Mr Chisholm's request, the council stated: "Changes to staff roles and responsibilities have delayed the publication of the 2016 and 2017 credit card spend. On this occasion, 2018 will be published at the same time as 2016 and 2017.

"We can advise that credit card spending by council officers for years 2016, 2017 and 2018 will be updated and published publicly within 12 weeks of your request being made.

"The information you have requested is due to be made publicly available by February 26, 2019. Therefore we are relying on S27 of FOI(S)A 2002, information intended for future publication."