Friday, 30 October 2015

Office closure another nail in coffin for Borders Press


The reported decision to close the Hawick News premises at the end of 2015 and run the paper from Selkirk -  eleven miles away - will leave the largest town in the Scottish Borders (population 14,000) without a newspaper office for the first time in almost 200 years. For many involved in the ‘trade’ the move by Johnston Press is beyond belief.

But a closer examination of developments over a relatively short time span of around fifteen years shows the alarming contraction in the number of newspaper offices across the region. The steady cull of skilled and experienced journalists since local titles became part of the vast Johnston empire should also be a matter of considerable regret and concern with the depleted staff struggling to cope with their ever-increasing workloads.

The largest newspaper business in the Borders with four weekly papers in its stable does not even have a single staff photographer based in a region with a population of well over 100,000 people. Yet the highly acclaimed pictures by staff ‘snappers’ was, until relatively recently, one of the trademarks which set the Southern Reporter above the rest of the Borders press pack.

Johnston Press has already closed offices in Galashiels, Kelso, Jedburgh and Duns since it paid almost £8 million for the Tweeddale Press Group in 1999. That deal was preceded by the acquisition of the Hawick News by Northern Press – later swallowed up too by Johnston – in 1998 for £875,000.

The relentless march of technological progress since the turn of the Twenty-first century is undoubtedly a major factor in the downward spiral of circulation figures and quality of content since the long-established titles ceased to be in family ownership. But surely much more could have been done to stem the incessant decline.

Management at Johnston Press certainly realised the technological advances being made at the time of those takeovers would have an impact on their print titles.

In March 2000, chief executive Tim Bowdler told shareholders in the company’s annual report and accounts: “Whilst we remain totally convinced that local newspapers have a bright future, we also expect new media to become an essential and significant contributor to our overall publishing business”.

But the endless decades of close ties between Borders communities and their local newspaper offices were soon to be swept away. Those valued LOCAL connections may have been severed forever.

Many previously loyal readers appear to have stopped taking their weekly dose of printed news, preferring instead to read about events and happenings in their town via the internet or on social media. And little seems to have been done to prevent them from drifting off into cyberspace.

Between the years 2000 and 2012 the official circulation figures for the Southern Reporter plummeted from 16,851 to 13,069, including a nine per cent fall in the space of twelve months. Over the same period sales of the Berwickshire News dropped from 5,359 to 4,264 while the Hawick News circulation nosedived from 7,134 to 4,751.

Unfortunately Johnston Press has ceased to be a member of ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulation) which means sales figures for their weekly papers are no longer publicly available. However, the chances are the decline has continued.

When told of the Hawick News office closure one highly respected and experienced former journalist commented: “I suspect the only reason lots of folk still buy the ‘News’ is because of the presence of the office in the town. This sounds like a perfect opening for some enterprising individual to start a wee paper with the words ‘written, edited and printed in Hawick’ beneath the masthead.  It could also get back to basics by covering flower show results and that kind of thing.”

He added: “Johnston Press seems to have paid over the odds for those titles, and now they’ve sold off all the tangible assets like the offices and printing plants. As far as I can see the only thing they have left are the titles, the vastly reduced circulation and the advertising revenue, all of which have almost certainly fallen in value under their so-called stewardship.”

And another ex-reporter who spent more than 40 years in the newspaper industry remarked: “I was amazed to hear that the Hawick News is to close its office in Hawick and will be run by remote control from Selkirk. It seems a ludicrous decision to me. I can see the day coming when it will be merged with the Southern Reporter and there will be one paper for the Borders which would not be ‘local’ at all.”

Many of the decisions taken by Johnston management in recent times, including the move to shut the Hawick News office, means Tim Bowdler's 2000 assurance that his company's local papers had a bright future now has a distinctly hollow ring. 

Monday, 26 October 2015

ScotlandsDNA - Would you Adam and Eve It?


An intermittent and sometimes acrimonious dispute involving Borders author, historian and businessman Alistair Moffat and genetics experts who challenge many of his claims concerning DNA discoveries has erupted again after a series of features by Mr Moffat launched in The Scotsman newspaper.

A team of researchers at University College London [UCL], whose members have been highly critical of publicity given to Mr Moffat and his internet businesses including BritainsDNA and ScotlandsDNA, developed a special website in a bid to "set the record straight".

The geneticists say they decided on this course of action because "the exaggerated claims made by BritainsDNA misled the public about what is possible from genetic testing. Some of their stories were ludicrous, which undermines the efforts of scientists who are more careful about the degree of uncertainty associated with their findings".

Mr Moffat claims researchers working on his "project" - BritainsDNA charges individuals up to £250 for a DNA test - have traced chromosome sub-types back to the time of Adam and Eve. In Friday's Scotsman he told readers: "We have completed the first stage of an epic piece of research, nothing less than the beginnings of a family tree of all men on Earth."

He explains that men have two small pieces of DNA that are very informative about ancestry. He had discovered that his mother's DNA 'marker' had originated a long way from her birthplace in Hawick. It arose in the Indus Valley of Pakistan about 30,000 years ago. But his Y chromosome marker from his father was much younger, originating in Scandinavia about 2,000 years ago. "Viking raider meets the civilisation of Mohenjo-Daro!".

But Mark Thomas, Professor of Evolutionary Genetics at UCL told Not Just Sheep & Rugby "How could a so-called historian say 'Viking raider meets the civilisation of Mohenjo-Daro!' Did they have a time machine?"

Professor Thomas and a number of his fellow academics have "rubbished" claims made by Mr Moffat on a number of occasions since 2012 when the local historian was interviewed on BBC radio by veteran broadcaster James Naughtie. The geneticists who took issue with BritainsDNA say they were threatened with legal action at one point.

Mr Moffat and Mr Naughtie are fellow trustees of The Great Tapestry of Scotland, which is about to find a permanent home in a custom-built £6 million museum at Tweedbank, near Galashiels despite widespread public opposition.

The UCL website maintains that the 'for-profit' status of BritainsDNA was never revealed by the press and the BBC, who only described it as "research" or a "project", thus disguising its commercial nature. Crucially none of the "research" appeared to have gone through the scientific process of peer review. They wanted to make editors more aware of the dangers of covert advertising masquerading as science of public interest.

In a detailed critique of Friday's Scotsman feature, Professor Thomas told us: "Apart from the obvious attempt to wrap his business in sentimental nationalism, alarm bells first rang with 'our scientists can tell where and when in history these [DNA] markers arose, and often when approximately they arrived in Scotland'.

"They can estimate when they arose with some precision [and less accuracy], but where they arose and when they arrived in Scotland is much more problematic".

In a reference to ScotlandDNA's "epic piece of research" outlined by Mr Moffat in the article, the professor commented: "Is he claiming that Scotlands DNA has played an important part in building the Y chromosome tree of humans? Scientists have been publishing Y chromosome trees since the 1990s, and the latest and most detailed paper includes no contribution from Scotlands DNA 'scientists'".

Since ScotlandsDNA was launched in partnership with The Scotsman in late 2011, almost 8,000 Scots have taken DNA tests.

Friday's article - the first in a series of five - described how, on a huge layout, Mr Moffat's team had shown how 573 Y chromosome types descend from Adam and relate to each other. Work is continuing with new findings to double that number 'in the autumn of 2015'. These will include many newly discovered sub-types in Scotland.

According to Mr Moffat: "Our burgeoning customer database has allowed us to define many new and rarer branches of the Tree that have not yet been reported. What the Great Tree of Mankind shows, for the first time, is how distantly or how closely related large groups of men are. It depends on where their branch is".

However, Professor Thomas said: "Is Moffat implying that their 'research' gives us this 'first-time' window on the past? If he is I know a lot of real scientists who would find this claim outrageous".

Monday, 19 October 2015

Spectacular U-turn for "next generation" technology

DOUGLAS SHEPHERD on how a 'winning' form of waste treatment fell out of favour almost overnight

Detailed work by Not Just Sheep & Rugby researchers has shown how bold claims about the technology which was to have revolutionised waste management for Scottish Borders Council (SBC) turned sour in a matter of weeks with Tory Government policy now blamed by its providers for making it an unattractive proposition.

A report written as recently as January of this year by directors of the NEAT Technology Group of companies boasted that they were at the forefront of advanced thermal waste-to-energy technology delivery. And, they claimed, the UK Government had implemented a range of support regimes to encourage new renewable energy facilities. SBC obviously believed them.

But when the continuing problems at the company's flagship Avonmouth Energy Recovery Facility (ERF) threatened to drain the lifeblood from the New Earth Renewables & Recycling Fund (NERR), which bankrolled Avonmouth's development, the script was swiftly re-written.

In a letter to stakeholders a few days ago, NERR's Michael Richardson declared: "In relation to the energy business, it was identified as early as autumn 2014 that major risks were posed by the increasingly bitter arguments within the UK Coalition Government at the time over the various support measures for renewable energy".

So it would appear some of the various businesses lined up to provide the Borders with an ERF for around £10 million were expressing doubts about the risks facing NEAT technology, and at the same time others were stating in their annual report: "Advanced thermal treatment of residual and commercial waste is considered to be the next generation of thermal treatment and can be applied to a variety of fuels."

That same report predicted £150 million of capital expenditure would be required to fund a second 13 MW ERF at Avonmouth, a 10 MW ERF at Canford, Dorset and a 4.5 MW ERF at Galashiels designed by NEAT. The development programme would generate in excess of £900 million in revenue over the next five years.

Shareholders and investors were told: "NEAT acts as New Earth Solutions Group's advanced thermal and technology provider and in due course will provide the same service to other third party customers. Strong and compelling market dynamics exist in the waste to energy sector, The UK represents a significant growth opportunity with substantial volumes of available refuse derived fuel (RDF) and a lack of thermal waste processing capacity".

An article published in the waste management trade press in 2013 said that before the ERF at Avonmouth was commissioned all of the RDF produced at the group's neighbouring conventional waste plant was exported to the continent, "which the company claims did little for the UK's balance of payments".

Contrast that with Mr Richardson's recent statement which outlined the continuing progress of NES' waste business in producing and exporting RDF to an increasing number of European customers at reasonably competitive disposal costs.

He added: "These off-take arrangements were proving to be more reliable and cost effective than sending RDF to the Avonmouth ERF, as it had struggled to maintain a consistent level of performance".

As reported here last week, the Isle of Man-based parent company of the various NES firms has now offloaded the entire energy sector to a bank in a deal which saw no cash change hands. The NEAT Technology companies, like those who operated the Avonmouth ERF, now have new names and new directors.

The technological problems and the cost of sorting them out have not been made public. But it will be interesting to see whether the flawed form of pyrolysis and gasification at Avonmouth, which so impressed Borders councillors and paid officials, can be made commercially viable in the future.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

All sides close ranks in energy from waste scandal


The various parties involved in the spectacular failure of a so-called *disruptive technology which was supposed to revolutionise waste management across the United Kingdom have erected a complete wall of silence designed to protect them from criticism and embarrassment.

Earlier this week we told how New Earth Recycling & Renewables (NERR) based on the Isle of Man had offloaded their technically flawed £60 million Avonmouth Energy Recovery Facility (ERF) to an Australian bank without any cash changing hands.

An identical facility had been planned for Easter Langlee, on the outskirts of Galashiels to convert tens of thousands of tonnes of household refuse into heat and power. But the deal was only scrapped after Scottish Borders Council discovered the form of pyrolysis being used at Avonmouth was 'not fit for purpose'. They learned their lesson the hard way after squandering well over £2 million of council taxpayers' money on the useless venture.

But no-one seems prepared to explain exactly what is wrong with the product known as NEAT technology which has been under-performing at New Earth Solutions plant near Bristol ever since its completion in 2013. The ERF is now in the ownership of Australia's Macquarie Bank - the Avonmouth project's major lender - and a company called Aurium Capital Finance. A string of New Earth businesses previously linked to Avonmouth ERF have all been renamed and have completely new sets of directors.

NERR admitted it had been forced to separate the energy and waste businesses within the New Earth Solutions Group because it could not afford to finance additional capital expenditure at the ERF. But even substantial extra investment would not guarantee success, according to the Manx-based parent company.

When asked to outline the technological problems at Avonmouth which are likely to have resulted in the collapse of the Borders contract, NERR's controllers Premier Group replied: "The information that has been released regarding the Avonmouth ERF issues is as much detail as the directors wish to divulge publicly. They will not be providing detailed breakdowns of the technical issues encountered, nor the capital identified as being necessary to improve performance.

"It is also worth noting that the facility is no longer owned by the New Earth group of companies as the demerger and sale have now concluded. In terms of the Scottish Borders project, it would be more appropriate to request additional information from the management of New Earth rather than the directors of the fund".

Unfortunately, NES has been contacted several times, and have suggested contacting Scottish Borders Council for information. They maintain they have nothing to add to a joint statement issued by NES and SBC when the catastrophic deal was torn up in February of this year.

Meanwhile, readers of today's Border Telegraph, will know that yet another attempt to have confidential documentation held by SBC brought into the public domain has failed.

Councillor Gavin Logan asked for the release of a crucial report dated October 2012 which persuaded elected members to sanction a contract variation with NES to include the untried and untested NEAT technology in an Advanced Thermal Conversion facility at Galashiels.

We understand this facet of the £80 million contract would have cost up to £10 million, and that reservations about the technology were being expressed at the time the variation was approved.

But council leader David Parker told Councillor Logan last week that the contents of the crucial document were covered by a confidentiality agreement by which SBC were bound.

Macquarie Bank was also contacted and asked what was wrong with the Avonmouth operating systems. The bank said they were not in a position to respond on behalf of NERR, and had no involvement in the Scottish Borders project.

Aurium Capital simply did not bother to reply when asked about the shortcomings of their brand new acquisition and whether more Avonmouth-type ERFs were planned for other parts of the country.

*disruptive technology - an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network displacing an earlier technology.

Monday, 12 October 2015

£60 million Avonmouth energy plant changes hands for no cash


The offshore owners of the energy business which Borders councillors believed would earn them the title of leading waste management authority in Scotland has admitted their £60 million pilot plant has been a costly and disappointing failure for shareholders and investors.

A catalogue of devastating information which forced New Earth Recycling & Renewables (NERR) to dispose of its energy recovery facility (ERF) at Avonmouth, near Bristol without any cash consideration has been posted on the group's website.

The shocking revelations seems bound to pile even more pressure on Scottish Borders Council to explain in detail why it was prepared to gamble and lose £2 million in a bid to provide its residents with a similar form of so-called pyrolysis to convert household rubbish into heat and power.

A visit to the Avonmouth plant by a delegation from SBC a year ago concluded the technology being used there was right for the Borders. But by February 2015 the contract with New Earth Solutions (NES) was dead and buried, and the local waste management strategy lay in tatters.

Premier Group Isle of Man, the parent company of NERR, has revealed it had been trying to offload the Avonmouth energy business for months because the facility was performing so poorly.

The company say: "A performance improvement plan was undertaken earlier this year in an attempt to boost the Avonmouth ERF's performance, which included the appointment of external specialist consultants who conducted a full review of all aspects of its operations.

"One of their key recommendations was the need for substantial further remedial capital expenditure, which carried no guarantee of success that the plant would reach a sustainable level of financial performance."

This part of the statement is particularly significant as SBC had signed up for an Avonmouth-type of ERF as far back as October 2012 when the technology was in its very infancy. So what persuaded the council to commit so early?

And the latest communication from the New Earth owners adds: "These capital expenditure requirements were greater than New Earth or the Fund could finance or were willing to commit given the experience to date with the Avonmouth ERF."

Because of the poor financial performance and the level of additional investment required, and the continuing technology and operating risks, it was not possible to find an external buyer, reveals the statement. So it was decided to "sell" the energy business to Australian bank Macquarie, the project's senior lender, and an institutional investor, who were between them prepared to refinance the business.

"The deal stemmed the continuing financial drain on the resources of New Earth and the Fund in continuing to support the energy business. However, there was no material cash consideration for the transaction." It would appear the plant on which SBC once pinned their entire waste management strategy has turned out to be worthless. Even the consideration paid for the shares "was only nominal".

A letter to stakeholders from NERR director Michael Richardson concludes: "Ultimately, the development of the energy business at a cost of nearly £60 million with its ambition to provide an integrated waste and energy solution for the UK market has not worked and has been a very costly and disappointing exercise for the Fund, its shareholders and New Earth."

One waste management insider commented: "It should not have taken too much for SBC to realise this wasn't going to work. This should have been obvious by the end of 2011, especially given the advisors they had on board. This goes back to the decision to insist on this technology instead of the MBT (Mechanical Biological Treatment) only. I hope they do hold people accountable for the decision. It is becoming more indefensible".

Friday, 9 October 2015

Jettisoned! The Bristol waste plant which wowed Borders councillors


The unresolved mystery surrounding the decision by Borders councillors to sign a £86 million contract with a company whose energy from waste technology was not commercially viable has taken a new twist with confirmation that the only plant using the unproven form of conversion has been sold off by its owners to stem their growing financial losses.

Earlier this year Scottish Borders Council abandoned their "ground-breaking" deal with New Earth Solutions (NES), including the proposal to construct a waste treatment plant at Easter Langlee, Galashiels which was designed to divert 80% of household refuse from expensive and environmentally damaging landfill.

The willingness of SBC to act as guinea pigs for the "pioneering" NEAT technology resulted in the loss of millions of pounds of public money which was written off without any detailed explanation after the local authority severed its links with NES. Taxpayers were merely told there had been technological and funding issues which could not be overcome.

According to correspondence seen by Not Just Sheep & Rugby senior officers at SBC recommended termination of the contract because while the technology intended for use at Easter Langlee had been developed, tested and evaluated by NES, it had not proved to be commercially viable or to work effectively. It was also claimed that NES had been unable to attract a financial backer for the Borders project after councillors decided to amend the deal to incorporate the unproven conversion methods.

As reported here previously, a 16-member delegation from SBC which visited the NES waste treatment complex at Avonmouth, Bristol in October 2014 were totally convinced that the technology's performance and potential would make the Borders the leading waste disposal authority in Scotland.

We now understand that the directors of the Isle of Man based Premier Group, which controls the various NES entities, have concluded the de-merger and sale of the stand-alone energy business at Avonmouth on which the Borders plant was to have been modelled.

Shareholders and investors will be given detailed information concerning the sale "imminently", but Premier Group has already warned the sale to an Australian bank and an as yet unnamed institution will result in a loss for those involved.

In a recent communication, Premier stated:"In April, New Earth engaged an external engineering consultancy to carry out a further technical and financial review on the future potential for the ERF plant [Avonmouth]. Unfortunately, the level of performance has consistently fallen well short of targeted levels. The programme of works communicated in March, whilst undertaken, has proven to be unsuccessful. Operational, manpower, maintenance and repair costs have consistently proved to be much higher than originally planned.

"The consequence of this review is that further essential and significant capital expenditure has been identified in order to potentially improve the plant’s performance. Based on history, this programme will still carry substantial technical risk. In addition, the continued underperformance of ERF still requires further working capital to support operational losses until capital modifications are made over the next 18 months."

Premier's New Earth infrastructure fund was named by SBC as the financial backer for the original Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) plant at Galashiels, a project which would have been up and running in 2012 had councillors not insisted in meddling with the arrangements in a bid to be 'pioneers'.

As a result, SBC has faced landfill tax costs of £2.32 million in 2011/12, £2.65 million in 2012/13, £2.95 million in 2013/14, and "approximately" £2.5 million in 2014/15, according to a response to a question posed at this week's council meeting. The MBT could have cut those sums by up to 80%. In cash terms...well you do-the-math!

Monday, 5 October 2015

How to spin real failure into virtual success

DOUGLAS SHEPHERD reflects on the tractor factory-style propaganda being used to sell a Scottish Corporate Plan

Those of us old enough to have witnessed the dark arts of the USSR propaganda machinery powered by that country's official news agency Tass, or who used to listen in amazement to chairman Mao's Chinese spin doctors will, I suspect, recall how productivity at Siberian tractor plants or Peking's state-owned textile mills was always better or higher than the year before.

I have to confess that only last week my mind flitted back to those heady days of fifty or sixty years ago after a communique from the propaganda section at Scottish Borders Council appeared on the local authority's website - how Kruschev and Mao would have loved the opportunity to promote their brands of Communism via the internet.

The old CCCP and the People's Republic of China produced regular five-year economic plans which were guaranteed to meet their targets even before the ink was dry on those ambitious state documents. And the vast majority of the populace believed their leaders had achieved great things no matter the levels of poverty and hunger being inflicted on the masses.

Here in the Scottish Borders we are currently prospering under the council's  uplifting Corporate Plan (2013-2018). Members of the Politburo (sorry, Star Chamber) at Newtown St Boswells are being told this week: "We have made significant progress against our eight priorities in the last two years", and "Progress against our eight priorities has been made while we have undergone a radical transformation of the organisation." See, just like those tractor factories mentioned above.

So, on the face of it, all eight issues at or near the top of SBC's wish list have been improved over the last two years, thanks to the efforts of er...the council.

We won't bother you with the full list, but here at Not Just Sheep & Rugby we were particularly interested in what the 'updated version' of the Corporate Plan had to say about Priority 5 - Maintaining and improving our high quality environment.

Here's a relevant extract from the document: "The annual percentage of household waste landfilled has increased by 5% compared to the same quarter the previous year, in line with projections associated with the removal of the garden waste service".

And that's sold to the public by the propagandists as part of the progression! Unfortunately some of the long suffering Borders peasants might regard it as a failure. Our so-called high quality environment may not have been helped either by the council achieving a 20% increase in methane emissions from the Easter Langlee tip last year. No mention of that in the upbeat Corporate Plan.

Mind you, we are told it is important to note the council has "saved" £450,000 per annum by removing the green bin uplifts. So does that include the increased landfill tax on the extra 1,970 tonnes of rubbish buried at Easter Langlee in 2014?

In a reference to 'priorities for the future' the master plan states: "Revisit our waste strategy to create efficiency savings, reduce expenditure and provide additional income through the implementation of a revised strategy that is financially and environmentally sustainable."

The maintenance  and improvement of our high quality environment will soon include endless fleets of diesel-guzzling lorries lugging all of the Borders' household waste through our green and pleasant land to a treatment plant far far away. But no doubt that too will be dressed up as a resounding success. The retired scribes from the Siberian tractor factory must be looking at the Borders in wondrous admiration and respect.

Friday, 2 October 2015

'Do nothing' option is a gas!


Scottish Borders Council's abject failure in its various attempts and so-called initiatives to cut down the volume of household waste going to landfill is producing a horrific environmental legacy for present and future generations.

Not Just Sheep & Rugby can reveal that emissions of harmful methane gas from the council's landfill site at Easter Langlee on the outskirts of Galashiels increased by a staggering 20% in 2014, exceeding the reportable threshold 36-fold.

Meanwhile the amount of domestic rubbish buried at Langlee (30,666 tonnes) represented the highest total for several years, exceeding the Scottish Government's landfill allowance of 17,654 tonnes by no less than 73.7%.

The Borders statistics, available on the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) website, look even worse when comparisons are made with what is happening nationally. Total methane emissions at 122 sites across the country fell by 9.3% while the national landfill tonnage dropped for the fourth year in a row.

SBC councillors were warned in 2008 that the so-called "do nothing" option on this vital issue was, in fact, not an option, and was unacceptable both from a legislative and environmental viewpoint. But nothing is precisely what they have done since 2002 when the matter was first flagged up.

Now their inaction and incompetence can be directly linked to the 361,000 kg of methane given off by the rotting rubbish at Easter Langlee during 2014. The emissions are up from 300,000 kg in 2013 and represent the highest volume of the leaking gas since at least 2009.

Methane is 21 times more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. But there are other toxic substances being emitted, adding to the cocktail of chemicals coming out of the ground.

For example, the reporting threshold for CFCs and HCFCs  is just 1 kg per annum. Easter Langlee gave off 31.1 kg of CFCs and 23.9 kg of HCFCs last year.

The elected members at SBC were told yet again in 2011 in a document marked "Confidential - Not for Publication": "Overall, the Council cannot legislatively or financially afford to continue to direct the majority of the waste to landfill".

But since then the percentage of household refuse finding its way underground at Easter Langlee has spiralled from 53.3% to of the highest landfill figures in Scotland. And the council, rather than tackling the issue resolutely, took waste management off in the opposite direction by banning garden refuse collections.

Between 2011 and 2014 SBC exceeded its landfill allowance by 35,449 tonnes. Had the system of fines for exceeding allowances not been suspended by the Scottish Government the council would have been liable for financial penalties of £5,317,350. But such a threat does not appear to have been a matter of concern for those in charge of waste management.

An experienced executive who works in the industry told us: "The figures speak for themselves; it is disgraceful how people have managed to retain their positions in light of this. Clearly they do not take responsibility for their environmental responsibilities. They are also in breach of the EU regulations. I simply do not understand why the culprits have not been made to account for their apparent incompetence."

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Top of the heap to bottom of the pile!


Just four years ago, a confidential report written by leading officials at Scottish Borders Council included a bold prediction that they were set to become the leading waste management authority in Scotland.

But this week, following the release of waste data for 2014 SBC finds itself at or near the foot of the waste recycling league table and almost top of the list for the amount of rubbish it sends to landfill.

The council's woeful record in the field of waste management, despite squandering countless millions of pounds on useless schemes and projects since 2002, has been aggravated by desperately bad decisions by councillors in recent times.

It is now clear the suspension of separate garden waste kerbside collections in 2014 has punctured the Borders' already pathetically thin green credentials. And the negative impact following the failure to develop and complete a waste management facility capable of dealing with 80 per cent of the region's garbage in 2013 has affected the statistics in a big way.

The newly released waste management figures for SBC published by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) tell a very sorry tale. The council's recycling rate is down by 9.6% from 46.3% in 2011 to 36.7% last year. Over that four year period the tonnage being recycled slumped from 24,897 to 18,345, a dramatic fall of 26.3%.

Only three other councils in mainland Scotland recycled a smaller proportion of their waste than Borders. And between 2011 and 2014 the tonnage being landfilled at Easter Langlee shot up from 53.3% to 61.4%. An extra 1,978 tonnes were buried in the ground even though the total waste generated by Borders households fell in the corresponding years from 53,822 tonnes to 49,952. Glasgow City is now the sole mainland authority which landfills a greater percentage of its garbage than SBC.

Yet that confidential document from March 2011 - it concerned SBC's new waste management contract with Dorset-based New Earth Solutions Group - proudly declared: "This contract will make Scottish Borders Council the lead authority in Scotland with a facility and contract that can be adapted over time to meet the changing needs of the waste industry".

The unnamed author of that verbal tosh should be asked to explain why the predicted triumph failed to materialise, and what has gone wrong in the interim. And it is to be hoped other Scottish councils are not still waiting for the delivery of the Borders template on which to base their own management schemes.

For the record, here are the SBC statistics for the last four years:

Year     Waste generated  %recycled    % landfilled      tonnage landfilled
2014       49,952 tonnes       36.7              61.4                  30,666
2013       51,242 tonnes       41.3              56.2                  28,821
2012       52,861 tonnes       42.8              55.7                  29,940
2011       53,822 tonnes       46.3              53.3                  28,688

The amount going to landfill far exceeds the limits set in the Scottish Government's Landfill Allowance Scheme (LAS), which was revoked in 2012. But in a future article we will use LAS figures to illustrate just how badly SBC has performed in the field of waste management and outline the implications for the Borders if the suspended system of fines are reintroduced.

The fact is that this most basic yet vital local government service is being poorly delivered, and is not being afforded the priority it deserves. Councillors have taken their eye off the ball, concentrating instead on "prestige" projects like the tapestry museum which, unlike waste disposal, will not affect every household in the region.