Monday, 7 July 2014

Brainwashed or brain dead? The choice is yours

A copy of the Summer 2014 edition of Scottish Borders Connect found its way into the Not Just Sheep and Rugby office today. It's full of positive spin from our local authority, but may be over-stepping the mark with its strap line 'YOUR COMMUNITY NEWSPAPER'. I hardly think so!

No doubt by this time every household in the Borders will have received their free copy of SB Connect, a publication which appears three times a year and enjoys a 56,000 print run. Our local weekly newspapers would bite your hand off for circulation figures of that magnitude.

SB Connect, launched in 2003, and costing council taxpayers up to £39,000 a year in production, print and distribution costs, is the work of the council's Communications and Marketing team. A message on page two of the current edition proclaims: "Our aim is to bring useful information to your door about the Council and its services to give you the opportunity to engage with us".

I'm sure many readers of SB Connect have issues they'd like addressed. But none of them are likely to feature in a "newspaper" which only portrays the sunny side of local government life.

The sixteen pages packed with public relations puffs and happy smiley photographs of council staff and elected members also offer disgruntled punters the chance to have their say on plans to transfer museums and other cultural assets to a Trust. Don't waste your breath, it's a fait accompli.

There's also a brief feature outlining work being done to streamline the Council's corporate management structure. We are told: "The Council is now in a period where there is a significant focus on developing effective partnerships, integrating areas of service and increased joined up working with community planning partners". Translate please!

There's plenty more of that brand of gobbledegook in our so-called Community Newspaper. And given the completely baffling material in a number of recent Council reports maybe it's time our councillors commissioned the Plain English Campaign on a consultancy basis to cut through the unfathomable jargon.

The issue here is why do we need SB Connect when so many of our media outlets are prepared to print or broadcast council press releases verbatim and without question? Apart from one notable exception, there is little evidence of investigative journalism being alive and well in this part of the world, more's the pity.

Meanwhile, despite widespread opposition and noisy protests from residents in all parts of our region over the withdrawal of garden waste collections earlier this year, SB Connect admits the decision to make green wheelies redundant was 'very difficult', and reveals how the council's waste and recycling team provided advice to more than 300 people and organised the free delivery of home compost bins. The remaining 55,700 households are expected to cart their lawn clippings and other green waste to the nearest Community Recycling Centre.

And for those of you who may have misgivings about the proposal to spend up to £5 million on a new building at Tweedbank to accommodate The Great Tapestry of Scotland, SB Connect appears to be softening us up for the inevitable.

According to the paper: "The Borders is in line to host one of Scotland's greatest works of art and a remarkable telling of the country's story". And that's before a £40,000 business case from consultants has even been tabled.

It seems we have a choice: a) Be brainwashed three times a year by SB Connect; or b) Adopt a brain dead posture and allow the council to do exactly as it pleases. Surely there has to be a third option out there somewhere.

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