Sunday, 30 November 2014

Perks for SBC staff: where's the press release?

I'd been tempted to pen a few lines about Scottish Borders Council's largesse towards their own hard working, dedicated staff who are to receive an attractive range of perks, including discount cards, as a reward for having to suffer an outrageous pay freeze - part of the 'savage cuts'.

But I thought it better to keep my powder (and ink) dry until the Council had time to cobble together a press release explaining to cash-strapped taxpayers how they had managed to find £18,550 hidden down the back of the proverbial sofa in such straitened times.

Alas the spinners from the well staffed media team at the Newtown St Boswells HQ have (so far) failed to produce the goods. No doubt they were fully occupied with the usual selection of positive propaganda which finds its way into our media outlets with alarming regularity.

Unfortunately too many of our newspapers and broadcasters fall for the daily supply of positive guff and pass it on to readers and listeners without bothering to ask questions. The fact that these hand-outs are often far from newsworthy doesn't seem to matter as long as they fill space or time.

You see, everything in the municipal garden is always rosy. There's no room for negativity, and anything which might attract public criticism or threaten a council taxpayers' revolt receives very short shrift.

The failure to issue a release on the 'discount deals' means we have had to rely on direct coverage from inside the council chamber. This is why we need robust, inquisitive journalists to hold our councillors and senior officers to account.

The fact that the new range of perks received the unanimous backing from elected members seems to suggest everyone concerned believed the rewards were justified.

No doubt they agreed with the sentiments expressed by Councillor Michael Cook, the deputy leader, who apparently told the meeting: "It hardly sends a positive message that we value our staff if we are quibbling about spending £18,550 over three years. Let's not be so damned miserable and get on with this".

In the same week that Mr Cook and his colleagues were proving they were not going to be 'damned miserable' so far as their workforce was concerned, we were told that vulnerable clients of the Borders social work department will have to find an extra £464,000 to pay for essential services..

Even the press release on this topic, which will be bad news for those who pay for the support they rely on, carried a positive spin. The sizeable increases for the services were being levied following 'a review conducted with care and attention.' This resulted in : "A much fairer system based on solid principles of equity, transparency and consistency, in line with national guidance".

Just a thought. At the next council meeting perhaps a member of the administration could outline plans for a discount card for the elderly and disabled clients of their social work department. After all there must be a few more unused wads of our hard-earned cash concealed in the well upholstered Newtown sofa. Every little helps!

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