Thursday, 16 August 2018

Trade union time costs revealed - but not at SBC!


Local councils and all other public authorities have, for the first time, published figures showing the cost of so-called Trade Union Facility Time, and it is clear the national bill will run into many millions of pounds.

But although Scottish local authorities and other bodies operating in the public sector posted monetary amounts on their respective websites by the July 31 deadline, Scottish Borders Council's document does not include a figure...only the fact that the 32 "relevant union officials" cost the equivalent of 0.107% of the total wage bill in 2017/18.

New regulations were introduced by the UK Government in 2017 making publication of the trade union information mandatory, including cash sums which the public could identify.

The regulations are designed “to promote transparency and allow for public scrutiny of facility time. They create scope for sensible savings by improving public accountability which will ensure taxpayers’ money is only spent on justifiable and accountable trade union work that represents value for money”.

Facility Time is the provision of paid or unpaid time off from an employee’s normal role to undertake trade union duties and activities as a trade union representative. The first set of figures for 2017/18 had to be made available publicly by July 31st this year.

Not Just Sheep & Rugby randomly accessed the newly published statistics for 16 of Scotland's 32 councils as well as a number of other organisations in a bid to establish what facility time was costing.

The figures range from the modest to the gargantuan although we offer no opinion on their merit or otherwise.

The largest sum we identified was for NHS Lothian where 167 'relevant union officials' including 27 who devoted 100% of their time to union duties cost £1,084,421 (0.12% of the health board's wage bill).

Other notable totals were for Renfrewshire Council where £619,180 was spent on the activities of 56 officials; at South Lanarkshire Council with 236 officials cost £478,291, the Scottish Government (£476,589 for 115 designation trade union officers), Police Scotland where £462,760 was the bill for 47 officials, and Scottish Fire & Rescue, £344,051 for 154 individuals.

The total amount of money required to pay for the trade union facility time at the 22 organisations we looked at was in excess of £5.5 million.

Here is a list of the individual returns from those 22 bodies in no particular order:

:LOCAL AUTHORITIES – Fife – 69 relevant union officials (£269,401); Scottish Borders 32 (no figure given, but costs equivalent to 0.107% of total wage bill); Dumfries & Galloway 25 (£86,214); East Lothian 10 (£36,037; West Dunbartonshire 75 £106,841; Aberdeen City 48 £316,260 plus 77 education TU officials (£216,910); Dundee City 32 (£116,089; Falkirk 43 (£109,738); Stirling 19 (£56,869); South Lanarkshire 236 (£478,291); Moray 19 (127,946); Perth & Kinross 35 (£79,395); North Ayrshire 173 (£137,238); West Lothian 38 (£171,740); Renfrewshire 56 (£619,180); Angus 43 (£125,241).
OTHERS – Scottish Government 115 (£476,589); Registers of Scotland 10 (£148,190); NHS Lothian 167 (£1,084,421); NHS Education for Scotland 8 (£14,516); Police Scotland 47 (£462,760) including 12 full-time union officials; Scottish Fire & Rescue 154 (£344,051) five full-timers.

Not Just Sheep & Rugby does not venture into Englandshire very often. But we thought it would be interesting to compare the cost of trade union activities in some of the organisations south of the Tweed.

There was a shock of astonishing proportions almost right away when we discovered Transport for London has 731 union officials, and the spend in 2017/18 came to an eye-watering £7,487,069. That figure is greater than the 22 Scottish totals combined.

Manchester City Council reported expenditure of £233,980 on 84 trade union officers. Our nearest neighbours, Northumberland County Council chalked up a reasonably modest £90,558 for 36 officials.

Meanwhile Northamptonshire County Council, the Tory controlled local authority currently on the brink of bankruptcy, spent £108,361 on 23 individuals. That is probably barely enough to save them from the debtors' prison!

Birmingham City Council, the second largest local authority in the country has trimmed spending on facility time in recent years. It is one of the few councils which has been publishing statistics for several years. In 2013/14 the city racked up £1,124,924 on 96 officers. But by 2017/18 the figure had fallen to £859,710 for 57 members of staff receiving time off for union duties.

Finally, Leicester City Council's figures last year were £430,536 for 95 officials.

The publication of the data may well spark "outrage" in some sections of the press.and media.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Who will bridge Borders funding gap?


The volume of European Union funding flooding into Scottish Borders agriculture increased by more than a third last year with three local farm businesses each receiving over half a million pounds in Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) subsidies.

An analysis of figures for each postcode area of the Borders plus Berwick-on-Tweed shows 1,159 recipients collected a total of £61,145,558 in EU cash. The corresponding statistics for 2016 were 1,143 and £45,720,832. The increases occurred in all 16 postcodes studied by Not Just Sheep & Rugby as you will see from the breakdown below. The overall rise works out at 33.7%.

The region has also fared well in the past from other EU funds including the Structure Fund and the Regional Development Fund. The crucial question is whether the current levels of subsidisation will be maintained post-Brexit. If not, the local economy seems certain to suffer.

CAP beneficiaries include Scottish Borders Council and the Ancrum-based Borders Forest Trust. In 2017 SBC were given £72, 310 following the previous year's award of £97,252. The bulk of the cash (£67,675 and all £97,252 respectively) was support for Leader, the agency which assists local businesses. This money is regarded as vital for the well-being of the Borders.

In the same two years Borders Forest Trust secured £55,053 (2017) and £79,997 (2016). In excess of £87,000 of that money was devoted to forestry development.

All of this follows the council's success in 2016 when the local authority secured £591,000 from Europe to enable 160 people to access 'employability' services each year. A further tranche of cash was made available from EU sources in 2017 to increase access to faster fibre broadband for Borders households and businesses.

Our figures on CAP payments, acquired from detailed analysis of the DEFRA (Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs) tables illustrate the positive value the payments have on sparsely populated districts like ours.

Here is our breakdown postcode by postcode - 2017 sum followed by 2016 totals in brackets:

TD1 (Galashiels) - £3.877 million to 53 recipients (£2.304 million to 49). Two largest payments in 2017 - L G Litchfield £525,287; Torwoodlee & Buckholm Estates £197,512.

TD2 (Lauder) - £2.445 million to 47 (£1.664 million to 46) 21. Firm of Sutherland £219,875; W H Sharp £171,661.

TD3 (Gordon) - £2.171 million to 21 (£1.671 million to 21). J & T F Macfarlane £523,748; G McDougal £402,819.

TD4 (Earlston) - £1.373 million to 23 (£1.067 million to 21). J W Fullerton £262,182; Fans Farming £198,136.

TD5 (Kelso) - £9.328 million to 162 (£7.249 million to 163). Floors Farming £597,346; Balgonie Estates £230,850.

TD6 (Melrose) - £2.626 million to 62 (£2.016 million to 64). Mertoun Estates £229,232; Riddell Farms £166,933.

TD7 (Selkirk) - £4.103 million to 82 (£2.858 million to 83). W N Douglas £173,468; T Renwick & Sons £152,176.

TD8 (Jedburgh) - £4.391 million to 85 (£3.153 million to 86). Firm of Nisbet Mill £231,034; R G Barbour £207,481.

TD 9 (Hawick) - £7.574 million to 168 (£5.204 million to 171). H & M Farms £314,313; R J, T J & M T Feakins £230,130.

TD 10 (Duns) - £1.798 million to 37 (£904,736 to 24). James Orr £145,428; John Mitchell £132,544.

TD11 (also Duns) - £8.585 million to 133 (£5.987 million to 126). McFarlane Farms £354,567; Harehead Farms £293,498.

TD12 (Coldstream) - £5.503 million to 92 (£4.373 million to 90). Pallinsburn Estates £230,267; Ladykirk Estates £180,679.

TD13 (Cockburnspath) - £1.480 million to 31 (£981,000 to 55). Duncan Shell £192,842; J P H Wight £114,827.

TD14 (Eyemouth) - £1.903 million to 53 (£1.725 million to 55). Eyemouth Freezers £149,238; R H & D H Allan £137,192.

TD 15 (Berwick) - £7.857 million to 163 (£6.902 million to 162). Penmar Farming £429,693; Joicey Partnership £320,274.

EH45 - (Peeblesshire) - £2.766 million to 49 (£1.515 million to 48). J P Campbell & Sons £436,200; Glenrath Farms £241,076.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Transfer station costs soar by 37% in 18 months


The waste transfer station which Scottish Borders Council has been forced to build as a 'holding base' for the region's domestic rubbish is now set to cost taxpayers £5.5 million instead of the £4 million figure used in a contract notice in December 2016.

A Freedom of Information request has revealed that the council decided in February this year to award the job of constructing the waste transfer station (WTS) to its own in-house team called SBC Contracts without inviting rival bids from private firms.

The decision is perfectly legal under Scottish procurement law, but experts claim it is difficult to guarantee 'best value' for council taxpayers when multi-million pound contracts are not opened up to competition.

The WTS will be developed at Easter Langlee, Galashiels, where a £23 million waste treatment plant capable of dealing with 40,000 tonnes of garbage each year should have been up and running by now.

However, that project which SBC awarded to debt-ridden waste management firm New Earth Solutions, collapsed in disarray in 2015 when the deal had to be scrapped, but not before £2.4 million of public money was spent by the local authority for no return.

With the Easter Langlee landfill site due to be closed in 2019 SBC faced a major challenge on the waste management front. It has been decided to transport all of the region's rubbish to a treatment facility outwith the area, hence the requirement for the WTS.

A news release from SBC last month confirmed that construction work had started at Easter Langlee following improvements to minor roads leading to the site. But the fact that the contract had been handed to SBC Contracts six months earlier was not mentioned.

SBC originally posted a notice on the Public Contracts Scotland website in December 2016 inviting bids for the WTS project, estimated at £4 million.

The notice warned that the site for the station was on land used as a landfill site in the 1970s and would require "careful remediation". The development would include provision for a waste transfer block, administration building, operational yard and entrance and exit roads.

The job was to take nine months to complete, according to the notice, and bidders were given until May 2017 to submit tenders.

But when May came round SBC published another notice, indicating that the procurement process had been abandoned. It stated: "The contract is not awarded. Other reasons (discontinuation of procedure).

Now the FOI response from the council says the WTS will cost £5.5 million with the contract due for completion in April 2019.

A procurement specialist commented: "SBC can award this contract to SBC contracts and do not need to go out to tender.

"However, the question as to whether this is best value appears to be up for debate. If SBC originally thought the transfer station could be constructed for £4m but ended up paying 37% more I would question the capability of the in house team, unless some special circumstances arise."

Monday, 6 August 2018

Borders Energy Agency - has its time come?


It was set up six years ago "to lead the drive towards a more resilient, low carbon economy to help Borders businesses and communities adapt to and benefit from renewable energy generation, energy efficiency and waste reduction".

But despite strong backing from Scottish Borders Council and the Southern Uplands Partnership (SUP), the Borders Energy Agency (BEA) has been forced to spend years in so-called hibernation due to a complete lack of funding. All of the concerted efforts in 2012 to attract financial backing from public agencies and sponsorship from private business ended in abject failure.

By 2014 a gloomy report from the SUP revealed: "Our efforts to promote community-scale renewable energy have continued to be frustrated by the fact that the BEA which we helped to set up has not been able to attract any funding. The BEA is currently hibernating in the hope that circumstances change".

Yet councillors had been told just two years earlier by their own senior officers that the Scottish Borders was aiming to be "the market leader in sustainable energy".

The vision was that renewable energy companies would locate to the region and a re-skilled workforce would have better employment opportunities. At the same time communities would become more self sufficient and sustainable.

It was a vision which did not appear to be shared outwith the area. The attempts to attract funding for the agency included approaches to major energy companies. Talks also took place with two banks specialising in renewables and bids were planned to secure cash from the Climate Challenge Fund and various European Union programmes.

In their annual report for the year ended March 2017 the BEA trustees wrote: "The board met a number of times during the year. We have continued to seek opportunities to secure funding to allow our objectives to be progressed but without success. With no resources we have been unable to make progress. The BEA has received no funds during the year, and has spent nothing. It currently has £3 in the bank".

But by August 2017 a corner appeared to be turned. An item in the SUP's newsletter said the struggling Agency had been given a small grant to help it run a series of free events.

A Borders Energy Agency gathering in Hawick in May this year looked at the opportunities the planned £35 million Hawick Flood Defence Project might offer to the town to enable it to generate more of its own energy. 

Those present were told of the chances for towns like Hawick, which in the past were largely powered by the local river. Dozens of local textile mills were once powered by the Teviot.

The modern day possibilities include installing Archimedean Screw technology, heat pumps or tapping into the heat that is currently discarded via the sewers. It was argued that the flood protection scheme needed to be built in a way that did not make future energy schemes difficult or impossible. 

It is also being claimed that renewable energy generation could have an important role to play in the future prosperity of the Borders. Here is another issue which the South of Scotland Enterprise Agency (SOSEA) seems certain to get its teeth into once it is up and running.

In a submission to the Scottish Government about the role of SOSEA, the BEA says investment should focus on low-carbon sectors such as renewable energy generation, energy efficiency and energy storage, manufacture of products from recycled material, facilities for sharing equipment/vehicles, low-carbon forestry and farming, eco-tourism, among others.

BEA's submission adds:"The Agency (SOSEA) should support the development of an energy master plan for the area, identifying strategic opportunities and local facilitation of energy generation and management initiatives; support for the renewable energy sector, investing in a wide of technologies in addition to on shore wind. 

"The benefits offered by heat pumps – water, air and ground source – are increasingly seen as a highly practical, cost effective and straightforward option for many homes and businesses, as are heat recovery ventilation systems, and lend themselves well to rural locations as well as more urban situations. These options could have substantial benefit to the many off gas grid communities in the short term, especially for fuel poor households."

It seems that despite its financial problems the BEA is very much alive and may be poised to play a much bigger role in future.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Same old themes 50 years later!

EWAN LAMB uncovers some old Borders 'chestnuts'

Research by Not Just Sheep & Rugby has confirmed that two of the key issues facing the soon to be constituted South of Scotland Enterprise Agency (SOSEA) were exercising the minds of economic development officials and leading councillors up to half a century ago.

A number of written submissions to the Scottish Government in 2018 have described the problems associated with inadequate east to west road links and have called for minor routes to be improved if the Scottish Borders and Dumfries & Galloway are to gain maximum benefit from an expanding forestry industry.

The very fact that these two topics are likely to feature in SOSEA's in-tray when it opens for business in 2020 suggests nothing much has been achieved since the 1970s when intensive lobbying was taking place to have an east-west "highway" constructed to link Berwick-on-Tweed with the M74 motorway, and approaches were being made to the "Common Market" for up to £4 million to widen and strengthen forestry roads.

Even Highlands & Islands Enterprise has spotted the fact that modern day cross country [east to west] traffic faces serious difficulties in the South of Scotland.

In their submission on SOSEA the Highlands agency says: "Despite the region being relatively well served by strategic transportation links, there remain significant challenges, particularly east-west links which are a barrier to regional cohesion and growth."

A newspaper report from May 1971 which we tracked down carried the headline 'PLANS FOR EAST-WEST ROAD LINKS BEING STUDIED'. The article was written two years after a group of roads surveyors first formulated plans for a designated east to west route.

According to the newspaper story: "Roads officials in the Borders said it was realised it could be ten years before all improvement schemes on an east-west route were completed". The concept was, at the time, being studied by the Scottish Development Department.

A year later another article declared: 'ROAD FROM BORDERS TO WEST VITAL NOW, REPORT CLAIMS'. The text says: "A proposal to create a high speed east-west road between Berwick-on-Tweed and Glasgow through the Borders cannot be shelved any longer, a report on communications by Berwickshire County Planning Department says".

And the report concluded: "Without improvement to this part of the infrastructure, Berwickshire and the whole region will continue to be in difficulties in providing work opportunities for their existing population and the population decline will continue unabated.

"There is no doubt that a communications system compatible with an industrialised society is a key factor if the Borders region is to play an important part in the economic growth of Scotland".

Failure to address this important issue over a 47-year period probably means the south-eastern corner of Scotland has missed out on economic prosperity to a significant degree. So will SOSEA be able to grasp the nettle and provide the resources for the long planned east-west highway?

Meanwhile Roland Stiven, projects officer for the Timber Transport Forum (TTF), has advanced a compelling case for significant investment to upgrade the network of B and C class roads to accommodate the region's growing timber "exports".

In his written submission on SOSEA Mr Stiven explains that In Scottish Borders the forestry resource is 18% of land cover and timber production is forecast to rise from one million cubic metres to 1.5 million cubic metres per year over the next decade.

In Dumfries & Galloway the 26% forest cover will increase production from 1.5m cubic metres to two million cubic metres in the same period.

He argues: "Most roads are either single tracked with passing places or very narrow twin tracked roads with poor geometry and limited strength with limited capacity for modern 44 tonne lorries which are the industry standard.

"Two and a half million tonnes per year is equivalent to 100,000 lorry loads so 300-400 lorry loads each day. We would like to see South Scotland use this demand for improved infrastructure to focus investment in rural road infrastructure, addressing the needs of the timber sector and providing benefits for the wider rural economy. 

"Ensure the modern forestry and timber processing sector can continue to develop and expand with more forests, more investment in modern processing, skilled labour and added value to timber products - creating more employment and more economic activity. Forestry and timber can provide a spearhead for wider rural economic activity and productive land use."

Mr Stiven adds  that the road and rail infrastructure is far from good. It has some good North South links for those passing through but internal connectivity and east to west links are very poor especially in the Scottish Borders.

The TTF says: "Already timber transport is restricted from many forest areas - restrictions on numbers of lorries, frequency of lorries, seasonal restrictions, special lorry configurations to try to minimise the impact on the fabric of the road. 

"The poor road capacity also results in timber traffic impacting more on other road users and the people who live and work in the area. So the timber industry which is a modern, well paid, carbon positive, manufacturing, rural success story is seen as a negative by some rural residents."

Many of TTF's arguments were being put forward to the powers that be 40 years ago, according to our research.

'ROADS PROBLEM THREATENS BORDERS TIMBER INDUSTRY' reads the headline on a newspaper article from September 1978. The story says: "Forestry, the fastest growing industry in the Borders, could fail to achieve even a fraction of its potential unless roads authorities in the region can get at least £1 million and possibly £4 million from either the Common Market or the Scottish Development Agency".

One council leader warned at the time that unless money was made available to carry out improvements there was no doubt the Borders would be faced with appalling problems.

He said: "A single vehicle weighing 32 tons can cause more damage to bridges [on minor routes] than 100 cars. We live on the edge of one of the largest man-made forests in Europe and we want to capitalise on the industry that will be created during the next few years".

So on this evidence it seems the South of Scotland has an unfortunate reputation for taking a very long time to get things done.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Highlands advice and South's "Aye Been" mentality

DOUG COLLIE reports on reaction to the proposed South of Scotland Enterprise Agency 

The publication of more than 240 responses to the Scottish Government's consultation on the establishment of a South of Scotland Enterprise Agency (SOSEA) has thrown up a complex range of issues which must be addressed if the region's failing economy is to be turned around.

It is clear SOSEA will not be short of ideas and proposals when it gets down to business in 2020 with the aim of achieving similar results to those chalked up at the other end of Scotland by Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE). No doubt HIE will be a hard act to follow.

But a number of the written submissions refer to an "Aye Been" attitude which may have stifled economic prosperity in the Scottish Borders and Dumfries & Galloway by resisting change in the past. Now there are calls for a radical approach following the comparative failure of conventional methods of promoting business expansion, inward investment and tourism.

The scene is set in a submission on behalf of Scottish Borders Council by its chief economic development officer Bryan McGrath.

He points out that the territory to be covered by SOSEA makes up one seventh of Scotland’s total land area with 24 people per square kilometre, the most sparsely populated area outside of the Highlands & Islands; low wealth creation (Gross Value Added (GVA) per head in the South of Scotland is £19,793 equating to 79.5% of the national average (£24,876 for Scotland}; low average weekly wages – the median weekly wage for all workers in the South of Scotland is roughly £467 (£467.8 in SB and £466.5 in D&G – 29th and 30th respectively amongst the 32 local authorities across Scotland). This is significantly below the national average of £547.30.; out-migration of young people and shrinking workforce - in 2017 the proportion of people of working age 16-64 was 58% in the South of Scotland compared to 64% for Scotland. 

Another of the issues pinpointed by Mr McGrath is low Gross Value Added – GVA per worker in the South of Scotland is 20% below the Scottish average, demonstrating that there is a significant productivity gap in the region. A key objective should be to close this productivity gap to the national average. Adding 20% on to the GVA would contribute over £750 million a year to the South’s economy.

Then there is the small matter of low investment in Research & Development – in the South of Scotland, business investment per head is £50, while the national average is almost four times higher at £198.

According to Mr McGrath: "We must be willing to take a long-term view of what we are trying to achieve in the South of Scotland and what it will take in resources and collective effort to deliver it. A particular priority could be supporting the regeneration of the more economically fragile towns and town centres, and rural communities."

He adds: "Critically, the Agency will need to break the cycle which sees an outflow of well-educated young people from the South of Scotland, leaving the area light on the skilled workforce which would attract more specialised higher paying businesses."

There are a number of interesting suggestions from HIE which produced a detailed report setting out its views and offering its support for the fledgling SOSEA.

Like Mr McGrath, HIE warns: " It takes considerable time to turn around an under performing economy and the new agency must be able and empowered to take a long-term view. We would support a focus on inclusive growth and therefore suggest that an appropriate aim may be to reduce the economic disparity between the South and the rest of Scotland, while contributing strongly to Scotland’s economic prosperity."

The HIE submission says: "Our ambition for the South of Scotland is very much based on our experience in the Highlands and Islands. When HIE’s forerunner was established in 1965, it was as an innovative model to halt and reverse enormous economic disadvantage that was then affecting all parts of the Highlands and Islands.

"Fifty years on, the region is a very difference place. Population has grown by 23% (compared to 3% across Scotland over the same period) - reflecting the growing attractiveness of the region as a place to live, work, study and invest. The business base has been broadened from traditional industries to encompass life sciences, creative industries, energy, universities, and business services, while food and drink, and tourism remain strong contributors. Similar diversification is required in the South of Scotland."

A number of commentators have claimed the new Agency will fail in its objective unless it has a similar sized multi-million pounds budget to that enjoyed by HIE. And that appears to be borne out by HIE itself.

 The Highlands submission explains:"Over the years, HIE has taken a number of bold and ambitious decisions to provide catalysts to the region’s development. Examples include: The University of the Highlands and Islands; the development of the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney - the world’s first grid connected wave and tidal test centre; the successful inward investment of Inverness Medical (now LifeScan Scotland, part of Johnson & Johnson) – the catalyst for a regional life sciences sector and the development of Inverness Campus.

"Similar bold and large-scale investments such as these need to be an ongoing feature of the South of Scotland’s economic development. This is an exciting opportunity for the South of Scotland and HIE would be happy to continue to support, not only the development phase, but the initial delivery years of the Agency as these will be crucial to its success.

"HIE and the South of Scotland have many common challenges and opportunities, i.e. similar focus on sectors with most growth opportunities. Ongoing collaboration should be mutually beneficial in addressing these and contributing to national growth."

One of the most contentious issues for those involved in setting up SOSEA is likely to be the location for the Agency's HQ. Some of those who sent in their views claimed a headquarters in the Borders or Dumfries & Galloway (depending where they lived) would be disastrous for the other half of southern Scotland.

And one anonymous respondent put it this way: "Share resources to keep the civil service spend to a minimum;what we don’t need is another publicly funded office of 200 well paid pencil pushers in Dumfries or Galashiels."


Friday, 27 July 2018

Borders council's lender sued for "alleged fraud and interest rigging"


A bank used by Scottish Borders Council to secure a controversial £6 million LOBO loan more than a decade ago is being sued by 14 other local authorities who claim the 'rip-off' loans were fraudulent as interest rates may have been rigged to manipulate charges to the borrowers.

Councils throughout Scotland and England arranged long term LOBO loans (Lender Option Borrower Option) between 2001 and 2010 from a selection of lenders including Barclays and the Belgian bank Dexia.

Now a High Court action has been raised by a group of authorities including the councils at Leeds, Bristol, Nottingham, Sheffield and Greater Manchester. The claimants are alleging that the loans they took out between 2004 and 2010 should be rescinded with fees returned. They also want compensation for damages.

Court papers seen by a Sunday newspaper accuse Barclays of “deceit and/or fraudulent misrepresentation” as its bankers were secretly rigging Libor, which was “integral” to the rate at which LOBO loans had to be paid back.

Libor is the interest rate at which banks offer to lend funds to one another in the international market. In 2016, three former Barclays traders were convicted of conspiring to fraudulently manipulate the global benchmark rate.

It was in May 2005 that officials at Scottish Borders Council (SBC) acting on advice from Butlers' Treasury Consultancy. agreed a £6 million LOBO loan from Barclays with repayment of the principal sum due by June 2065. The original interest rate of 2.87% went up to 4.4% in 2009. In 2016 the fair value of the loan was estimated to be £10.644 million.

LOBO loans were attractive to councils as they often offered interest rates below that of central government’s Public Works Loan Board although they allowed lenders to change rates at set times in the future. Refusing to pay updated interest rates would mean councils are forced to pay back the loan in full.

This form of credit certainly proved popular with SBC, the council setting up a total of eleven LOBOs with a total value of £43 million. The true value of all eleven is now in excess of £70 million, according to figures supplied to a Freedom of Information requester two years ago.

A spokesman for the campaign group Debt Resistance UK, said: 'Having campaigned for councils to file fraud cases against the banks since 2014, we are thrilled these local authorities have finally stepped in to protect local taxpayers by filing fraud claims against banks which brought our economy to the brink. Ten years after the crash it is councils which are now facing bankruptcy to pay for the bankers bailouts.

'We are aware that 240 councils have rip-off LOBO loans. We're now calling on the other 226 councils with LOBO loans to file legal action against Barclays, RBS, Dexia, ICAP, Tullet Prebon and CAPITA."

No fewer than six of SBC's loans are with Dexia Bank. In 2004 and 2005 the authority borrowed £24 million in total from the Brussels-based bank.

In 2011 Dexia was the subject of a massive £3.4 billion bail-out by the Belgian Government after it encountered serious liquidity problems. It then became known as Belfius Bank. More recently there have been stories in the press and media linking the financial institution with revelations in the so-called Paradise Papers with allegations of money laundering and tax evasion.

Research by Unite the Union in 2016 on the state of debt in Scottish local government concluded that the equivalent of 26% of SBC's council tax income was used to service outstanding debts. The total collected from council taxpayers was £46.1 million with £11.806 million being swallowed up by interest and capital repayments on loans.

Barclays has so far declined to comment on the High Court action by 14 of its local government clients.