A WAR of words has broken out amongst Scottish Borders councillors following the controversial decision to raise council tax by a further one per cent - just three months after agreeing to a three percent tax rise.

The ruling Tory/Independent alliance, which is led by Tweeddale East councillor Shona Haslam, maintains that the rise is necessary in the face of continued cuts in the Scottish Government’s local government finance settlement.

Meanwhile, the main SNP-led opposition at Scottish Borders Council maintains that the finance settlement is more than ample, and had more budget savings been identified then the extra tax rise would not have been necessary.

Leader of the SNP opposition, Stuart Bell, who also represents Tweeddale East, said: “I am disappointed that we lost the Scottish Borders Council budget vote on Thursday, February 28, but I’m genuinely sorry for Borderers that the Tory-led administration has put the council tax up so much.

“At times I despair of the negativity that we’ve had to endure from some Tories here about ‘the bad SNP government’ cutting Borders funds. It’s just not true.

“Yes, we do have to cope with inflationary and demographic pressures, but the final core funding for the Council was the same amount as last year and we got £10.4m extra for day-to- day services and some new services, like child care, and there is £4m additional capital.

“There has also been an extra £1.4m just announced to boost Borders town centres.

“Get your own house in order first is what I call on the council’s administration to do. There are £3.3m of planned savings which the council has so far failed to achieve which have just been rolled forward into next year.

“If the council’s executive had just ensured these savings then perhaps the Tories could have reduced council tax to two percent instead of increasing it to four percent.”

The ruling Tory/Independent coalition had its budget approved at a meeting of the council on Thursday, February 28, when it went head to head against a rival budget set out by the opposition SNP/Lib Dem/Independent coalition.

The biggest point of contention is the rise in council tax. The ruling administration’s budget includes a four percent rise in council tax, while the opposition budget kept the increase to three percent, as was previously agreed by the council in December.

The budgets further deviated on priority spending. The administration says it will use the extra council tax to accelerate the construction of a new high school in Hawick and provide £2.4m of extra spending for roads and pavements.

The administration’s budget proposition also includes £265,000 for a second community action police team, £25m for the replacement of Eyemouth and Earlston primary schools, and plans to spend an extra £3m on extra care housing in Hawick, Kelso, Eyemouth, and Peebles.

On the other hand, the opposition wanted to spend £58m on flood scheme works, including Hawick, provide an extra £3.6m for waste management services, and put £9.2m into early learning and childcare.

One area where the budgets are almost aligned is digital learning. While council leader Shona Haslam’s Tory/Independent budget will see £16m spent over ten years to give every P6 to S6 school pupil an iPad, Tweeddale East councillor Stuart Bell’s opposition budget would have seen a slower roll out of iPads at a cost of £11.4m.

In response to councillor Bell’s comments, council leader Shona Haslam said that the opposition’s budget promised things which they could not deliver.

She said: “When the SNP tell us how we have to spend the council budget, it means less for bread and butter things a council does.  

“The facts remain, and are independently verified, we received an £8.5m cut in our budget for this year.  

“The SNP have told us that we have to spend more on what remains on early years, health and social care, etc. This means that there is less to spend on roads, emptying the bins, public toilets or cutting the grass.

“With 1% extra we can deliver an extra £2.3m for roads, more over the next four years than the SNP could even dream about delivering.

“The SNP budget didn’t provide funding for two high schools, they had plans for two high schools but wanted the Scottish Government to provide all the cash.  

“Our budget provided a sound financial basis for our school estate expansion that means it will actually happen rather than pie in the sky promises from the opposition.

“We all know that the beauty of being in opposition means that you can promise lots without ever having to deliver.  

“The difference with our administration budget is that what we promise we will deliver, through sound financial planning and engaging with our communities.

“No one was more disappointed than me when we had to raise council tax, it is a horrible decision to have to take, but in light of the scale of cuts we are facing, and our united commitment to continuing to deliver change in the Borders we were left with no choice.”