Monday, 15 December 2014

Open letter to all Borders councillors

Dear elected member,

Scottish Borders Council - like every other local authority in Scotland - may be on the verge of bankruptcy, with accumulated debts of more than £170 million. And millions more will have to be found from existing revenue budgets by cutting services still further over the coming financial years.

Yet on Thursday of this week (December 18th) each one of you will be invited to sanction expenditure of £3.5 million on a single capital project, the construction of a purpose-built 'shed' at Tweedbank to house The Great Tapestry of Scotland. It is a crazy venture which we Borders taxpayers simply cannot afford, and you have the chance to confine it to the dustbin of local government history when you're called upon to vote on the issue.

This is not the time for vanity projects dreamed up by council leaders without any thought for the long term financial implications which, as the report to council points out, will be hanging round our necks like the proverbial albatross for 30 years.

When interest re-payments coupled with instalments on the original £3.5 million are totted up the actual cost appears to come in at £8.25 million. So the burden of bringing the tapestry here - it has no link or direct connection to the Scottish Borders whatsoever - will join our extremely costly PPP/PFI secondary schools in syphoning tens of millions of pounds from the council's near-empty coffers. A number of other 'Consent to Borrow' successes simply add to the drain on cash.

The document compiled by your officers suggests there will be revenue surpluses resulting from the £10 admission charge for visitors to the Tweedbank tapestry venue. There's even a prediction of between 40,000 and 50,000 visitors a year although those numbers cannot be guaranteed.

And the plan to take money from visitors does not appear to be in line with the objectives of The Great Scottish Tapestry Charitable Trust which state: "The Trustees will endeavour to transfer the tapestry to a public museum or other public body of similar status where it will be held for the benefit of the nation and be made available for viewing at no cost to the public."

The proposal to find a home in our midst for this large textile should have been strangled at birth. Instead it looks as though the cash-strapped council taxpayers of the Borders are about to be presented with an unwanted Christmas stitch-up, if you'll pardon the pun.

But it is not too late to save the day...and a great deal of money which would need to be borrowed at considerable expense if this daft project is to proceed.

All it takes is for each and every one of you to vote 'No' when the motion is proposed. So show a bit of backbone and do us all a favour. You never know, you might just reap your reward at the next council election. Whichever way you vote I'm sure many of us have long memories!

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