Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Hike in homeless across southern Scotland


The number of applications to services for the homeless across Scottish Borders, East Lothian and Dumfries & Galloway rose sharply in 2016/17 at a time when appeals for help nationally fell by two per cent.

The statistics, published by the Scottish Government this week, reveal a 23% spike in applications to Dumfries & Galloway Council (up from 668 to 820), a 12% rise in East Lothian (681 to 766) and a 10% increase in Scottish Borders (623 to 686). The Borders figure was the highest recorded since 2011/12.

Meanwhile the number of households living in temporary accommodation in the Borders rose from 82 to 87, far above the 2002 figure of 35 households. At the same time the number of children living in temporary accommodation went up from 38 to 41.

The temporary accommodation statistics for Dumfries & Galloway showed a significant improvement, down from 240 households to 199 with 73 children included in the latest figures compared to 76 in 2015/16.

However, in East Lothian households in temporary accommodation increased from 410 to 440, with the number of children involved up from 184 to 251.

In February, in answer to a Freedom of Information request, Scottish Borders Council confirmed it was renting 85 properties from Registered Social Landlords (RSL) and 49 from Private Sector Landlords (PSL) in meeting its statutory homeless duty.

Total rents paid to RSLs in 2015/16 was £310,000, and to PSLs £253,170. The equivalent figures for 2016/17 are  £316,934 and £233,264.

A research report by Shelter Scotland into evictions by social landlords in Scotland between 2012-2016 revealed a 13% increase in evictions by Scottish Borders Housing Association, the main landlord in the region following a whole stock transfer of council housing in 2003.

In 2015/16 SBHA instituted 535 proceedings against tenants, 68 were taken to court, decree was granted in 44 cases and 17 evictions occurred.

East Lothian's eviction rate increased by 162.5% between 2013/14 and 2015/16 from eight to 21. At the same time RSL Dumfries & Galloway Housing Partnership completed 33 evictions, a 2.9% reduction from 2013/14. There were 925 notices of proceedings, 297 tenants were taken to court and decree was granted in 58 instances.

The Shelter Scotland report concludes: "From the evidence and analysis, it is apparent that landlords, especially local authority landlords, are increasingly making use of eviction actions in response to rent arrears. In the years leading up to 2013/14, there was a decrease in the use of eviction action. However, since then the number of evictions has risen.

"Between 2007/08 and 2013/14, evictions fell by 52 per cent, while over the course of 2013/14 to 2015/16 evictions have increased by almost 25 per cent. Shelter Scotland is concerned that this upward trend will continue unless clear changes to policy and practice are made.

"With the significant changes to the backdating of housing benefit and the introduction of the benefit cap in 2016, it has become even more important for the rest of the social rented sector to learn from their examples. Social sector landlords should seek to actively engage with their tenants and try to prevent rent arrears as much as possible by providing help and advice when needed.

"The increasing uncertainty regarding the UK economy following Brexit is likely to further impact social sector tenants. It is therefore vital that the policies and practices of social sector landlords reflect the challenges that their tenants face and adequately address them in a way that reduces rent arrears and, ultimately, helps tenants to stay in their homes."

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Common Good revisited: still under-performing?


The nine Common Good funds in the Scottish Borders received only £69,000 from a combined investment portfolio of £2.7 million in 2016/17 while the common land and property in a former Scottish burgh just a few miles away  recorded a £600,000 return for its trustees.

The £69,000 figure represents a 2.5% investment 'dividend for Scottish Borders Council, administrators of the funds in a year when the council's own pension fund achieved a 21.5% return

Serious concerns were voiced four years ago over the alleged poor management of the Borders funds with a dismal financial performance and a failure to fully exploit the valuable assets granted to local burgesses and freemen by various charters of the Scottish kings over 500 years ago.

While the Common Good lands and properties in Duns, Galashiels, Hawick, Jedburgh, Kelso, Lauder, Peebles and Selkirk appeared to be in the doldrums in 2013, the single fund managed by the Berwick-on-Tweed Freemen Trustees was chalking up impressive financial achievements.

At that time SBC announced that the £2 million cash balance in their funds was to be transferred to a “private firm of global fund managers.”

Berwick, one of the four original Scottish burghs founded in 1125, received its common from the monarch in 1491, around the same time as several of the other towns in the Scottish Borders.

The trustees at Berwick have 2,550 acres of land under their control with a value of £6.508 million, according to the charity's latest available accounts (2015/16). The fund generated more than £600,000 from investments and was able to devote more than £500,000 to "charitable activities".

A new set of accounts covering 2016/17 for the now nine Borders Common Good funds - Innerleithen has been added to the list since 2013 - allows a modern day comparison to be made with Berwick-on-Tweed.

Between them the funds, amalgamated into a single charitable trust several years ago by SBC, have land holdings in excess of 5,000 acres including three Selkirk farms extending to 1,300 acres, 800 acres of farmland at Hawick and a 1,700 acre common at Lauder.

Total income from investments in the last financial year added up to £69,000 made up of £66,000 from the £2.7 million investment portfolio in the Newton Real Return Fund plus £3,000 in bank interest from the "Scottish Borders Council loans fund".

The council charged  £48,000 for 'governance costs' incurred in administering the trust - the same figure was levied in the previous fiscal year - and Common Good donations to worthy causes totalled £171,00 (£89,000 in 2015/16).

When the various deductions were made from the funds net income last year was a decidedly unimpressive MINUS £139,000 compared to PLUS £433,000 the year before. The bottom line was a reduction of £149,000 in the net movement in funds against an additional £503,000 for 2015/16.

Total funds carried forward fell from £13.895 million to £13.746 million.

Meanwhile over in Berwick-on-Tweed a seemingly highly efficient regime saw total funds carried forward increase from £21.687 million to £22.024 million. In March 2011 the Berwick fund stood at £17.9 million, so there has been considerable value added since then.

In a section headed Plans for the Future, the report carrying the Borders accounts declares:" The Common Good Funds will continue to maintain their heritable assets and will look to maximise their income from any of these assets which are let commercially. Where assets are used by third parties towards the Common Good of the Burgh then rental levels may reflect this aspect of the tenants’ activity."

The Common Good agenda item for this week's committee meeting appeared alongside SBC's draft accounts for 2016/17 which we have already reported on, and the local authority pension fund.

There was much better news for members of the pension fund than the slim pickings for the Common Good trustees who happen to be all 34 members of the council.

The SBC Pension Fund accounts reveal: "Strong three-year annualised investment performance of 10.9% - 0.9% above benchmark; 2016/17 Strong one year performance to March 2017 with investment returns of 21.5% in the year to a benchmark of 19.5%."

It means the pension fund now has £654m in net assets, an increase of £112m on 2015/16.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Another ‘under-spend’ at council HQ yet debts climb by12%


Scottish Borders Council has declared a wafer thin under-spend on its £261 million revenue budget for the fifth year in succession while at the same time running up more than £21 million of extra external debt during the 2016/17 financial year.

The situation is outlined in draft annual accounts which will be presented to councillors later this week.

Research by Not Just Sheep & Rugby staff has confirmed that in every fiscal year since 2012/13 the council has recorded an under-spend of less than one per cent, demonstrating an apparently remarkable control on expenditure over scores of different budget headings.

This time round the books were closed with a miniscule 0.05% (£128,000) ‘in the black’ figure. The corresponding returns in previous years were 2012/13 0.30%; 2013/14 0.18%; 2014/15 0.16%; and 2015/16 0.49%.

The report containing the latest set of unaudited accounts claims under the heading Highlights of the Year: “Against a very difficult financial background, the Council has achieved a great deal during 2016/17 as follows: signed a 13-year contract with CGI to establish a digital services partnership;

“Achieved £8.9 million of planned Financial Plan savings on a permanent recurring basis; Delivered £261.6 million of revenue spending within budget; Delivered Capital Investment of £51.5 million on schools, flood protection, roads, lighting and other assets; Supported a successful first year operation of the new integrated Sport & Culture Trust (Live Borders)”.

However, for some reason, the accelerated rate of borrowing does not feature among the highlights. A few pages further on Borders residents are told: “External Debt: The Council’s external debt as at 31 March 2017 was £197 million. Additional long term borrowing was undertaken during the year amounting to £12 million.

“Short term borrowing for cash flow purposes was also undertaken with £9 million outstanding at the end of the year. The average rate of interest paid on outstanding external debt was 6.2%”.

One wonders if the many extra millions borrowed are taken into account when calculating that 0.05% "under-spend".

In fact the total debt figure had soared by 12.1% from its level of £175.25 million in March 2016. And no less than £11.879 million of taxpayers’ cash was required in 2016/17 just to service SBC’s portfolio of loans.

There was a hefty bill too for the long-term PFI scheme which delivered new secondary schools a decade ago in Eyemouth, Duns and Earlston. The accounts show there will be a service charge of £6.024 million in 2017/18 plus an additional £2.66 million to cover interest. The total cost of the Initiative will be more than £238 million, including an eye-watering £34.7 million in interest charges.

The ‘Remuneration’ section of the accounts will no doubt be of special interest to many of those who take the trouble to scrutinise the authority’s financial house-keeping.

For example: the number of employees at SBC who earn £50,000 or more increased from 115 to 125 last year. And the top 13 senior employees received total remunerations of £1,002,622 (up from £989,519 in 2015/16).

But the exit door at Newtown St Boswells appears to have been less busy; 2016/17 saw 23 exit packages for departing staff at a total cost of £430,745. In the previous financial year SBC offloaded 71 staff members who took £2.233 million with them.

The report concludes: “The operating environment for the Council continues to be very challenging with financial and economic influences such as increasing demands on services, reducing Scottish Government funding, low interest rates and cost pressures from pay and price inflation all affecting the Council’s finances. The Council, despite these challenges, remains financially sound and well placed to serve the people of the Scottish Borders in the future”.

No doubt the people of the Borders can also anticipate another wafer thin under-spend when March 2018 comes round. The level of external debt may be more difficult to predict.

According to monthly lists of loans displayed on the Public Works Loan Board website SBC borrowed £8 million over 10 years on February 24th 2017, the money to be applied to expenditure 'within one month'.

And on April 26th 2017 the local authority borrowed another £10 million over 10 years. This time the cash was to be applied to expenditure 'immediately'.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Will May keep this gravy train running?


Farmers in the Scottish Borders and elsewhere must be hoping at least one Tory manifesto policy survives the political carnage which has seen many of the party's flagship pledges ditched and shredded.

Gone even before a deal with the DUP could be stitched up were promises to introduce more grammar schools, to legalise foxhunting in England and Wales, to levy a 'dementia tax' on folk requiring care, to deny many pensioners their winter fuel payments along with the removal of the triple lock on the state pension. All conveniently abandoned to keep a lame duck prime minister in power for a while longer.

However, the well worn Hammond/May mantra "we must live within our means" continues to get regular air time, and there was nothing in the Queen's Speech this week to suggest there would be extra billions for education, the NHS and for other suffering public services.

So if there is no spare cash floating around The Treasury, where will the estimated extra £9 billion come from to deliver the Tories' commitment to guarantee the current level of financial support for British farmers post-Brexit? In other words, to extend the Brussels Common Agricultural Policy's (CAP) 'dripping roast' from 2019 to 2022. Or will this solemn promise be quietly buried too?

Last year more than 154,000 UK businesses collected in excess of £2.86 billion in subsidies, slightly less than the £3.185 billion which supported 183,000 separate recipients the previous year.

In 2016, more than 26,000 different Scottish rural businesses received a CAP payment from EC funds. The hand-outs were worth over £647 million, and a significant proportion of the money was used to promote environmental projects and schemes aimed at resisting climate change.

Research carried out by colleagues at Not Just Sheep & Rugby would suggest the Government will have to come up with more than £150 million over three years if farm related businesses in the Scottish Borders and North Northumberland are not to suffer financial losses once the CAP gravy train hits the buffers.

In the twelve months to October 2016 1,191 agri-linked entities across the region received £47.2 million following the 2015 statistics which showed some 1,300 businesses pulled in around £63 million from EU funds.

The loss of such a significant level of subsidy would blow a large hole in the Borders economy. According to tourism experts the money spent in the region by visitors on food, drink and accommodation is worth £65 million a year to hotels, restaurants and pubs. So the complete removal of CAP benefits from the Borders would be on a similar scale.

An economic profile for the Scottish Borders, produced by Scottish Borders Council in 2013, stressed: "It is critical for the local economy that CAP reform continues to deliver support for an innovative and competitive agricultural sector. Total income from farming in Scotland is less than subsidies received (£589 million income against subsidy of £633 million, so industry dependency on direct support is high".

Here is a postcode breakdown of the farm payments which found their way into the Scottish Borders in 2016, including some of the main beneficiaries:

TD1 - GALASHIELS - 49 businesses received a total of £2.304 million (2015 £3.620 million): including L G Litchfield, Bowland Farms £295,441; T & J Elliot £136,594; Torwoodlee & Buckholm Estates £127,536; Mrs C M Reid £126,541.

TD2 - LAUDER - 46 businesses received £1.664 million (£2.260 million); including W H Sharp & Son £108,415; W M Barr & Co £106,633; Firm of Sutherland £100,105.

TD3 - GORDON - 21 businesses received £1.671 million (£2.141 million): including G McDougal (Bassendean) Ltd £256,585; J & T F Macfarlane £484,213; Haddington Farms £152,502; R W Morris & Co £127,816.

TD4 - EARLSTON - 21 businesses received £1.067 million (£1.157 million): including Fans Farming £172,367; J W Fullerton & Sons £192,533; Hamish Morison Farming Ltd £120,450; Messrs R & J Scott Aiton £110,078.

TD5 - KELSO - 163 businesses received £7.249 million (£9.450 million): including C G Greig Farms Ltd £258,886; Balgonie Estates Ltd £197,634; Floors Farming £231,378; James Mitchell & Partners £187,847; Lochtower Ltd £128,629; D & D W D Thomson £151,835; Messrs J Jeffrey £168,460; Playfair Farms £129,882; T W & T B Edgar Ltd £203,876.

TD6 - MELROSE/ST. BOSWELLS - 64 businesses received £2.016 million (£2.922 million): including Mertoun Estate Farms £173,218; Messrs Maxwell (Faughhill) £112,067; Scottish Borders Council (Woodlands) £97,252.

TD7 - SELKIRK - 83 businesses received £2.858 million (£4.909 million): including BQ Farming Partnership Ltd £212,248; Langholm Farms Ltd £182,256; Sir F M Strang Steel £146,152; W N Douglas £113,440.

TD8 - JEDBURGH - 86 businesses received £3.153 million (£4.270 million): including Firm of Nisbet Mill Farm £190,896; R G Barbour & Sons £177,815; Robert Neill & Partners £135,589; Messrs A A Scott £121,019; J W Ogilvie & Partners £107,560.

TD9 - HAWICK/NEWCASTLETON - 171 businesses received £5.204 million (£8.389 million): including G W & M Richardson £106,813; H & M Farms £180,262; R H Brunton & Co £101,738; R J & T J & M T Feakins £183,718; S H & P M Shirley-Beavan £115,093; W S Davies & Son £108,370.

TD10 - DUNS/GREENLAW - 24 businesses received £907,000 (£1.871 million): including J C & K C Constable Ltd £104,239; John Mitchell & Co £106,899; The Firm of James Orr £129,683.

TD11 - DUNS/ABBEY ST. BATHANS - 126 businesses received £5.987 million (£8.017 million): including A M & A Calder Farms Ltd £168,885; C A Ramsay Partnership £119,164; Catchelraw Trust £150,923; Charterhall Farm £101,631; Ellemford Farming Ltd £120,556; Harehead Farms £170,380; Macfarlane Farms Ltd £220,361; R & J McDonald £212,752; R P Cowe & Co £107,057; W Arnott & Co £131,160.

TD12 - COLDSTREAM - 19 businesses received £759,000 (£1.162 million): including Ladykirk Estate Farms £152,584.

TD13 - COCKBURNSPATH - 16 businesses received £403,000 (£1.355 million): including J P H Wight & Co £78,596.

TD14 - EYEMOUTH - 55 businesses received £1.725 million (£1.583 million): including Eyemouth Freezers Ltd £319,313.

TD15 - BERWICK-ON-TWEED - 162 businesses received £6.902 million (£7.527 million): including A T Barr & Co £143,870; G H Millar (West Foulden) Ltd £106,810; Conundrum Farm Partnership £102,787; J A Frater £103,867; J E Armstrong & Son £166,147; Joicey Partnership £291,497; R T de Plumpton Hunter £184,552; Penmar Farming £443,295; R C Reed £136,936; Sunwick Farm Ltd £106,427; The President Estate Farming Partnership £240,133; Todd Farms £129,154; W L Douglas & Son £281,638.

EH45 - PEEBLES - 48 businesses received £1.515 million (£2.278 million): including Glenrath Farms £111,828; J P Campbell & Sons £212,171.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Creditors of SBC contractor will get 1.5p in the £


The mountain of debt which finally engulfed Scottish Borders Council's waste management contractors New Earth Solutions last year may have been as high as £116 million, it has been revealed.

And non-preferential creditors who previously thought they might recoup between four and eight pence in the pound will get just 1.5 pence in the pound while claims from unsecured parties have rocketed fourfold from £9.1 million to a staggering £36.289 million.

The latest financial statistics in the New Earth Solutions Group disaster are disclosed in a progress report to creditors by joint administrators Sarah Bell and Philip Duffy, of insolvency specialists Duff & Phelps.

Yet again it must be emphasised that members of Scottish Borders Council either failed to check on or were completely unaware of the company's fragile monetary state throughout the lifetime of a four year contract.

The fact that the local authority even considered doing business with such a debt-ridden Group simply beggars belief. The council decision to hook up with NESG cost local taxpayers at least £2.4 million, and the urgently needed waste treatment facility at the heart of the deal was never even started.

Documents seen by Not Just Sheep & Rugby show that NESG was heavily in debt to banks in 2011 when SBC sanctioned its original multi-million pound deal, but was also in hock to its associated off-shore fund New Earth Recycling & Renewables [Infrastructure] plc or NERR prior to a contract deed of variation being signed by councillors in October 2012.

The Duff & Phelps report shows there is insufficient funds from sales of assets to pay off the secured creditor (Co-op Bank) in full. The Co-op was owed £41.8 million.

Next in the pecking order of so-called secured creditors came NERR, the now bankrupt Isle of Man investment fund chosen by SBC to bankroll the £21 million waste plant at Easter Langlee, Galashiels.

According to the report: "NESG was historically funded via quasi-equity from NERR. [The fund] provided the Group with funding for ongoing trade as well as capital improvements. The funds were provided under a debenture created on September 19th 2011.

"As at the appointment (of administrators) the indebtedness to NERR totalled in excess of £39 million. As NERR's security is subordinated to the Co-op's debt there is no prospect of any distribution being made to NERR under its security".

Hundreds of investors and shareholders in NERR who lost everything now know their money went to prop up the struggling NES Group even though they had been told the fund invested in new waste recycling facilities in the UK.

So did the millions of pounds which NERR handed over to NESG in September 2011 mean the "green" fund could no longer finance the Scottish Borders project?

Within three months of the debenture being finalised New Earth informed SBC that a conventional facility to treat the region's rubbish could no longer secure bank funding. Surely the paying public have a right to know the full facts relating to the disastrous contract failure.

Duff & Phelps had expected to conclude the administration of NESG this month with a move to dissolve the business and remove its name from the Register of Companies.

But the report explains that a request has been made to extend the administration by twelve months to June 2018.

"The extension is necessary following the requirement of the joint administrators to include a provision for a significant non-preferential claim", says the report. "The claim is currently the largest submitted within the administration.

"However, it has not yet been possible to conclude the position in respect of this claim and therefore the extension will be required to conclude the adjudication of this claim".

There is no indication in the report as to the identity of the claimant or the amount being sought. A further progress report is likely to be issued in the near future.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Workers seek £109,000 from failed building firm


A group of 15 former employees of a Borders building company which crashed into administration late last year are taking the firm to an employment tribunal in a bid to claim over £100,000 in so-called protective awards.

The trade union representing workers who lost their jobs at long-established Galashiels builders Murray & Burrell is basing the case on the alleged failure of the company's management to consult prior to the appointment of an administrator.

Meanwhile it has been revealed that claims from ordinary creditors, estimated at £800,000 in November 2016 has now climbed to almost £2 million which means previous indications that all creditors would be paid in full may have to be scaled back once a final reckoning is reached. It now also seems unlikely that any funds will be returned to shareholders.

The information is contained in a progress report to creditors from administrator Richard Gardiner which sets out a series of developments since his appointment last November.

Mr Gardiner reports: "The sale of the company's plant, equipment, motor vehicles and stock realised more than my agent had anticipated and debtor collection to date has far exceeded my own expectations with further amounts still to be collected."

The sale of the yard from which the company traded has been completed for £167,000. Mr Gardiner anticipates the sale of the firm's development site at Craigpark Court, Galashiels will change hands for £540,000. Proceeds from the sale will go towards paying secured creditor Assetz Capital Ltd, the business which holds a bond and floating charge over all Murray & Burrell's assets, and which was owed £727,000 at the end of May 2017.

Mr Gardiner's report also shows employee claims will be in the region of £34,000 for arrears and holiday pay and £187,000 for notice/redundancy pay.

He adds: "However, in February 2017 I received notification that 15 of the employees, acting through their union, are seeking protection awards against the company for what they claim was a failure to consult. Having discussed the matter with the directors and legal agents, the decision was taken to vigorously defend the claims and a hearing date is awaited from the Employment Tribunal. It is estimated that if the Tribunal were to make the awards in full these would amount to some £109,000."

The report shows the sale of the company yard for £167,000 was to the Trustees of the Alexander Kemp Pension Scheme. Mr Gardiner explains that Mr Kemp is a former director of Murray & Burrell and the husband of Sally Kemp who is a director of the firm.

A number of asseys remain to be released, including a development site at Buckholm Corner, Galashiels which has been valued at £750,000 to £1 million. That valuation has been challenged by the firm's directors who also have an interest as representatives of the two major ordinary creditors, ASM Developments (owed £564,000) and Waukrigg Developments (£231,000).

"This land had been on the market with another agent prior to administration, but there had been little interest", writes Mr Gardiner. "From discussions with various agents it would seem that there is currently little interest for plots of this size in the Borders area".

D M Hall, the agents who valued the Buckholm Corner site have agreed to 'revisit' their assessment prior to fully placing the property on the market. The directors have also suggested the possible appointment of a joint marketing agent to reach out to potential purchasers from overseas.

Mr Gardiner also explains that following a review of old planning applications in the Borders area on which no development has commenced, Scottish Borders Council had indicated an intention to remove this land from their Development Plan.

"As the intention is to sell the land for development I instructed my property agents to lodge a defence and this has been submitted to the council in order to preserve the value in the land", he states.

There has also been little interest in a site at Lilliesleaf valued at between £200,000 and £275,000.

The development of nine houses on Craigpark Court land had commenced prior to administration. Two properties had been completed, one of them having already been sold and the second being used as a furnished show house.

This site was subject to "an onerous Section 75 planning obligation" (developer contributions) which could potentially put off prospective buyers or lead to reduced offers.

"The purchaser (of Craigpark Court) ius a provider of social housing and is thus usually exempt from Section 75 obligations".

In a section of the report entitled Prospects for Creditors, Mr Gardiner says: "My staff continue to receive and log claims from (ordinary) creditors. Ordinary claims are currently projected to be in the region of £1,996,000 but I would stress that, to date, no formal adjudication has been carried out on any claims and this is merely an indicator based on the creditor list provided by the company and claims received to date".

The estimated financial position of the firm included within the administrator's proposals published in January suggested that, based on the asset values provided by the directors at the time, a dividend of 100p in the pound would be available to creditors.

But according to the new report: "The level of dividend will depend on the final sales values that can be achieved for the various land and properties and, whilst I still anticipate that a substantial dividend could be available to ordinary creditors, I am unable to provide an estimate of the timing or quantum of such dividend until such time as the outcome of asset realisations is known. However, creditors should be aware that the assets remaining to be sold are likely to take some considerable time to sell".

In a message to shareholders, Mr Gardiner says the anticipated surplus in the estimated financial position of the company included with the January proposals indicated that there might be funds to be returned to shareholders.

He warns: "However, this now seems unlikely given the potential lower returns from the sale of assets, the costs of the administration and interest accruing on creditors' claims".

A note headed Directors' Conduct, the administrator says in terms of the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986 and the insolvent companies (Report on Conduct of Directors) (Scotland) Rules 1996 he is required to prepare a report regarding the conduct of the directors who held office in the three years prior to his appointment.

"This report has been submitted but I am unable to divulge the contents of such reports", concluded Mr Gardiner.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Ticking all the wrong boxes!

EWAN LAMB reports on the Borders' latest waste management performance

Hidden away in a 44-page annex of a report to be considered by Borders councillors this week are four ticks in separate boxes, indicating that the local authority is on target and in line with national trends when it comes to waste recycling and landfilling.

Hardly surprising that Scottish Borders Council has awarded itself four out of four passes when it is allowed to mark its own homework book.

The annual and quarterly performance reviews show that in 2016 SBC managed to recycle 39.07% of the rubbish it collected, up from 36.89% the previous year. At the same time the tonnage of garbage being buried actually increased although the overall percentage dropped from 62.2% to 60.7%.

However - perhaps conveniently - there is no mention of how SBC is doing compared to national averages or when their data is set alongside other Scottish local authorities who form a 'Family Group' for bench-marking purposes.

The Scottish Government's recycling targets continue to be missed by a country mile in the case of Borders. The aim was to achieve 50% re-use of waste by 2013, 60% by 2020 and 70% by 2025.

There seems little chance those ambitious heights will be reached by SBC following the complete collapse of its waste management strategy, the abandonment of a project which was designed to divert 80% of rubbish from landfill, and the recent decision by its own members to turn down a planning application for a waste transfer station.

According to this week's report to the influential SBC Executive: "Over the last four quarters there has been a small but consistent increase in recycling rate observed. This is thought to be related to the introduction of food waste kerbside collections, and in an increase in garden waste collected at the recycling centres.

"The tonnes of waste going to landfill have increased slightly over the period of the past four quarters. This could be related to economic activity. However, over this same period there has been a small but consistent decrease in the percentage of waste going to landfill.

Statistics for 2016 for all 32 Scottish local authorities will not be published by the Scottish Environment Protection Authority (SEPA) until September. But the 2015 data gives a snapshot of SBC's record compared to its brothers and sisters in that Family Group.

The Borders landfill figure of 62.2% for 2015 was only exceeded by Eilean Sar (Western Isles) Council on 64.8%. The other figures for the Group were Aberdeenshire 56.1%; Highland 54.6%; Argyll & Bute 48.7%; Shetland 22.0%; Dumfries & Galloway 29.3%; Orkney 23.9%.

The 2015 proportions of so-called other diversions from landfill (not including recycling) show SBC close to the bottom of the league. This section of the waste management figures comprises waste disposed of by incineration, recovered by incineration or managed by other methods.

The percentages for the Family Group were Dumfries & Galloway 43.5; SBC 1.79; Aberdeenshire 0.13; Argyll & Bute 17.4; Orkney 51.2;Eilean Sar 13.9;Shetland 68.8; Highland 0.9.

A fleeting reference to the "new" Easter Langlee waste transfer station merely tells us: "As planning consent was refused the project is now delayed and likely to incur significant additional cost".

Based on all available data the box ticking exercise which allows SBC to claim it is on target or in line with national trend or showing a long-term positive trend seems virtually meaningless.