Tuesday, 10 June 2014

A marriage of convenience

Should the Scottish electorate be sensible/brave/daft/stupid (delete as appropriate) enough to vote for independence come September 18, one thing's for sure...we will no longer require 32 separate local authorities or their armies of generously paid officers and councillors.

Just think about it. The savings generated from the removal of scores of portfolio holders and Cabinet members, not to mention Directors of This and Directors of That, would probably be sufficient to wipe out the national debt. I look forward to the day when we have five or six local Super Powers to oversee crucial tasks like making sure the bins - including green wheelies - are emptied on time.

So how might the revised local government map of Scotland look five or ten years from now? The Boundary Commission will have a field day re-jigging our civic territories without any thought for distances or diabolical road links. Meanwhile there will be fiercely fought municipal battles the length and breadth of Scotland as our council leaders cling desperately to power, citing historic place names and 'aye been' traditions to justify the continuation of their salaried existence.

But you may be glad to know that here in rugby country they're already ahead of the game. This very week it was revealed that council officers from the Borders and Dumfries & Galloway had been working for months behind the scenes to draw up a joint list of key infrastructure projects with a view to promoting them at Government level.

It meant proposals for a Central Borders Business Park near Galashiels estimated at £5.1 million and the redevelopment of the Stranraer waterfront (£5.8 million) on the western fringe of southern Scotland appeared on the same sheet of paper. This is just the latest sign that the two local authorities covering that vast expanse of land to the south of Edinburgh and Glasgow are cosying up to each other.

We already have the South of Scotland Alliance pushing the case for a low carbon economy, European funding, improved skills, capital investment and infrastructure and better broadband connections. And the Southern Uplands Partnership...civil, one presumes...has been around for years, bidding to keep local communities "alive and healthy".

These days it's relatively easy to move from partnership to marriage, and on the face of it the Borders and Dumfries & Galloway are made for each other.

However, there would be difficult issues to be settled and obstacles to be overcome. The current east-west A7 road connecting the two areas is certainly not fit for purpose. So it may be necessary to convert the 200-mile long Southern Upland Way footpath between Eyemouth and Stranraer into a dual carriageway with a tartan version of HS2 running alongside the new highway. Problem solved; travellers from Berwickshire able to take in the wonders of the revamped Stranraer waterfront, and still be home in time for tea.

But the most important topic for debate between the prospective partners is likely to be the location for the new shiny £200 million council headquarters. It may be difficult for some to imagine a time when Galashiels is no longer the centre of the universe, and that there is a world beyond Dumfries. I think the smart money may be on Ecclefechan, but I could be wrong.

My spies in the west tell me they do play a version of rugby over there, and sheep have been spotted grazing the Galloway hills. So at least the name of the blog won't have to be changed.

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