CONTRIBUTED BY GUEST COLUMNIST EMMA ROYD
The latest Scottish local government 'customer satisfaction' polls, which have revealed plummeting levels of contentment among users of Borders front line council services on several flanks should provide a shuddering reality check for those members hoping to be re-elected next year. But will they?
A range of data for 2014/15, now available on the Local Government Benchmarking Framework [LGBF] website, places Scottish Borders Council at or near the bottom of national performance tables on a number of measurements.
SBC will no doubt argue that the polling samples are too small to give an accurate reflection of service users' satisfaction, but presumably the same sampling methods have been used in each of the 32 local authority areas.
Here's a taste of the survey findings so far as SBC is concerned. Satisfaction with leisure facilities: second lowest in Scotland at 52% (down from 70% in 2013/14 and from 76.9% in 2010/11); satisfaction with libraries: lowest in Scotland at 56% (down from 67% and 75.8% respectively); satisfaction with museums and galleries: second lowest in Scotland at 52% (down from 58% and 66.7%).
The position is equally depressing when it comes to education and refuse collection. According to the returns to LGBF the satisfaction rate with Borders schools was the second lowest in Scotland at 66% - five per cent lower than in 2013/14. And contentment with local refuse collection slumped from 84% to 77% in the space of a year after councilors took the crazy decision to withdraw garden refuse collections and thereby slash recycling of garbage from over 40% to a pathetic 37%.
A comparison tool which accompanies the data allows LGBF website browsers to look at spending levels on various services provided by local government.
While SBC spends £4,044 per kilometer on roads maintenance for every 1,000 of its citizens, the Scottish average stands at £5,618. The equivalent level of expenditure on trading standards in the Borders comes in at £3,815 compared to the median figure of £5,736.
But the one sector where the Borders council finds itself near the top of the spending pile is in corporate services (also known as administration) where eight per cent of the local budget of £200 plus million went on day to day running costs. The average Scottish figure hovers around five per cent while one local authority covering part of Ayrshire spends less than three per cent on admin.
All of this adds up to a 'could do better' end of term report for SBC.
Yet while bread and butter services are far from satisfactory, and more budget cuts and staff departures are on the way, there seems to be a steely determination on the part of the ruling group to completely ignore public opinion and economic reality by forging ahead with a £6.5 million custom-built museum to accommodate The Great Tapestry of Scotland.
A sharp intake of logic should have resulted in this extravagant luxury item on SBC's agenda being hastily withdrawn when the first cold breezes of austerity started wafting through the corridors at council HQ. The project was even identified as the number one target for savings when the public were invited to submit budget proposals to the council.
But in truth it is the long list of risks identified in the business case which have been discarded first in the headlong dash to impose a largely unwanted vanity project on taxpayers who will have to fork out an estimated £400,000 a year in loan charges with no guarantee that the latest Borders tourist "attraction" will be a success.
We are told Scottish Ministers are taking a fresh look at the financial implications of the scheme although it appeared at first sight that more than £3 million of Government cash would be available to deliver the tapestry dream. It is to be hoped Sturgeon's Cabinet can halt this act of folly in its tracks.
If the plan for the museum morphs into reality and becomes a feature in the current landscape of council tax freezes and declining public services then the current administration at SBC will undoubtedly be remembered for saddling their residents with The Great Travesty of Scotland.