Thursday, 26 March 2020

'Revolutionary' farm businesses face insolvency


The joint administrators who have taken over control of a high profile Borders agricultural company are set to sell off two Berwickshire farms which were earmarked as the locations for a 'fascinating' model "using disruptive technology to change the face of modern farming".

The insolvency of Orrdone Farms Ltd which owns Sunwick Farm, near Berwick-on-Tweed and Harcarse Hill Farm, close to Duns, has been followed by the revelation that a sister company called Omega Infinite (formerly known as Avocet Infinite) is also heading for administration, according to one of its directors who also helped set up and run Orrdone.

Omega Infinite has featured on several occasions in articles published online by Parliamentary Review which is chaired jointly by two former UK Government ministers, Lord (David) Blunkett and Lord (Eric) Pickles. The publication reported in one glowing feature how Avocet, as it then was, had grown its share capital from £50,000 to £17 million in £1 shares in the space of four years.

And the "new and innovative techniques" being pioneered by Omega (Avocet)'s directors Martin Frost and James Jennings...both are also directors of Orrdone Farms...were highly praised as recently as 2018 by Councillor Mark Rowley, Scottish Borders Council's executive member for business and economic development. Mr Rowley told The Berwickshire News after a site visit in October of that year: "The model is fascinating, I hope it will bring significant investment and employment to the Borders."

One of Mr Frost and Mr Jennings's ambitious proposals was to house herds of Piemontese cattle in 'cow palaces' with the animals' excrement being converted into green fuel to power vehicles.

The woes facing Orrdone Farms are graphically presented in a so-called Notice of Administrator's Proposals which has been posted on the Companies House website.

Jeanette Brown, of Dodd & Co, Carlisle, and Emma Porter, of Aver, chartered accountants, Edinburgh, were appointed joint receivers in January. They were called in by Ordonne's major creditor UK Agricultural Lending Ltd (UKALL) who are due more than £3 million from Orrdone. The trading activities for Orrdone are listed as "cereal growing, raising of cattle and buffaloes, mixed farming".

According to the administrators: "The directors have not cooperated with our requests for information and only limited books and records have been provided. Readers of this document should therefore be aware that some of the information contained within the proposals has had limited verification due to the lack of director cooperation and records supplied, and is therefore by necessity based on our initial investigations."

The administrators explain that in or around September 2016 the Company entered into a contract to purchase farms owned by Hamilton Orr Ltd held under two titles in the Scottish Borders namely, Harcarse Hill Farm and Sunwick Farm, including part of Greenwood Farm. 

In September 2016 a loan of £3.25 million from UK ALL was secured. The loan provided was for a period of 30 months and due for repayment in March 2019.

"The Joint Administrators understand that, following extensive discussions between one of the directors of Orrdone Farms Limited, Mr Martin Frost, UK ALL received no repayment and considered that no repayment was likely. Therefore UK ALL determined that the only course of action available was to formally call up the loan and seek the appointment of Administrators", the report says. 

Administrators also report: "Mr Martin Frost, as director of Orrdone Farms Limited had commenced proceedings in Jedburgh Sheriff Court for the removal of the Orr family from Sunwick Farm during which Sunwick Farm became the subject of an Action of Reduction and an Interim Interdict dated 20 January 2020 against Orrdone Farms Limited."

And another section of the report reveals: "In our discussions both with Mr Frost and the company secretary, we were informed that Orrdone Farms Limited had ceased to trade at the end of May 2019 and that it no longer owned any trading assets (including livestock), or had any employees. Invoices later provided to us showed that all of the Company's trading assets and livestock were sold to Avocet Infinite plc (now Omega Infinite plc) on 1 June 2019."

The joint administrators go on to state: " We were also informed by Mr Frost that "Avocet" had a licence to occupy the site at Harcarse Hill under the terms of a lease. No written lease has been provided to the Joint Administrators, and the secured lenders (UKALL) have confirmed that they had no prior knowledge of the existence of such an arrangement.

"It is considered that, subject to a legal review of any documentation supplied, any lease is unlikely to be valid. As previously mentioned, we have been provided with limited financial information by the directors, which also meant that we had no up to date list of the Company's creditors. As we are required to contact creditors of the Company as soon as is reasonably practicable after the date of our appointment, it was necessary to compile a list of names and addresses from historical invoices provided to us to ensure that we complied with this requirement."

And the report continues: "Action has been taken to physically secure the premises at Harcarse Hill as part of the valuation process.The Company is recorded at the Scottish Land Register as owning Sunwick Farms, part of Greenwood Farm [near Grantshouse] and Harcarse Hill Farm. There are a number of allegations and assertions regarding the ownership of these properties and the existence of leases, which are currently being investigated."

The document shows the joint administrators have asked the directors of Orrdone on seven separate occasions for the company's estimated financial position, but a so-called Statement of Affairs had yet to be produced .

According to the report: "In addition, we have not been provided with any up to date accounts of the Company, and whilst we have limited temporary access to the Company's accounting system on a "read only" basis, these records are clearly not up to date. The last transaction date posted on the accounting system is 17 October 2019 and there is no reconciliation of the opening position with the Company's last audited accounts as at 29 December 2017."

The report says Harcarse Hill Farm has a draft valuation of £1,195, million while Sunwick, including land at Greenwood has been valued at £2.785 million.

Adds the administration report: "We have been provided with two invoices dated 1 June 2019 in the name of Avocet Agriculture Limited (now Orrdone Farms Limited) relating to the sale of all trading assets including farm equipment and livestock to a connected company, Avocet (now Omega) Infinite plc.

"We have not been provided with any evidence that these invoices have been paid, nor has the Company accounted to HM Revenue Customs for the output tax due. UK ALL had not been made aware of the sale of these assets which were largely covered by their debenture. In addition, we understand that some of the farm equipment and vehicles may have been subject to other finance agreements terms."

In a section of the document which refers to Orrdone's sister company Omega Infinite it is stated: "In respect of Omega Infinite plc, we were aware that a winding up petition had been lodged in the High Court in London on 20 November 2019 with a hearing date set for 15 January 2020 adjourned to 4 March. A winding up petition in force does not prevent the service of a statutory demand.

"On 3 March 2020 however, we were informed by Mr Frost that an application had been made to Court on 11 February 2020 to place the Omega Infinite plc into Administration. The Administration hearing was adjourned to 20 March 2020. An application for an Administration Order through the Court places a temporary moratorium on all legal actions against the Company so it will be necessary for the Joint Administrators to awaiting the outcome of the hearing on 20 March before this matter can proceed further."

The report on the administration of Orrdone also includes a list of other creditors with total claims of more than £600,000.

Named creditors include Forestry & Land Scotland (£201,000), HMRC (£165,000) and The British Piemontese Cattle Society (£1,800).

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Coronavirus has Borders democracy in 'lockdown'


A set of emergency powers to be brought into play at Scottish Borders Council as a result of the coronavirus crisis will see decision making delegated to the authority's chief executive until the end of September.

The unusual but seemingly necessary arrangements are expected to be rubber-stamped by councillors on Thursday when 'remote' attendance will be the order of the day.

A report from chief executive Tracey Logan "recognises the need for Scottish Borders Council to take steps to reduce risks for its Members, Staff and citizens arising from Coronavirus (COVID-19)." 

It notes that, to mitigate those risks, all formal Council and Committee meetings are being cancelled. Public consultation meetings will also be postponed.

But the report adds: "It is however vital to ensure that the Council is able to continue to exercise its essential functions. This means there needs to be a process whereby urgent decisions can be made during this extraordinary period."

The report therefore outlines an interim decision making process and, to implement that process, proposes some additions to Standing Orders. 

"It is important that those urgent decisions are able to be made in the most efficient and effective way possible. This will enable the Council to be agile and responsive at this difficult time."

Ms Logan proposes amending Standing Orders to delegate further decision making responsibility to the Chief Executive on a temporary basis. This delegation will be exercised in consultation with Members.

And the report explains: "There may however be situations where formal Council or Committee meetings do require to take place during this period. Where that is necessary it is proposed that such meetings should minimise social contact and therefore Members should mostly attend those meetings remotely."

Setting out the background to the highly unusual set of circumstances, Ms Logan tells councillors:
"As the virus makes a wider impact on public life, Scottish Borders Council must consider how to respond. In taking any decision to protect health by limiting social contact, it must also ensure processes are in place to enable it to continue to make urgent decisions.

"It is therefore proposed that Council and committee meetings are cancelled until 30 September 2020 unless they need to take place for statutory reasons. It is further proposed that public consultation meetings are also postponed. If of course the situation changes and the risk no longer exists meetings can be reinstated at an earlier date."

In the event that the Chief Executive is unavailable to exercise this function, it will be exercised by an Executive Director. 

The decisions will be made once the following consultation process has taken place:  "The Chief Executive, one of the Executive Directors or relevant Service Director shall prepare a briefing note with details of the decision required; This note shall be circulated via email to the Leader, the Convenor, and the Leader of the Opposition. 

"The Leader shall take reasonable and proportionate steps to sight Members of the Administration of the note. The Leader of the Opposition will take reasonable and proportionate steps to sight Members of all of the opposition parties of the note. The Leader, the Convenor, and the Leader of the Opposition will have 3 days to respond to the note.

"For the avoidance of doubt, in the event that the Leader, the Convener, or the Leader of the Opposition become unable to fulfil their role under this consultation process, they shall nominate a deputy to act on their behalf; The note will also be sent, as appropriate, to the Executive Director Finance and Regulatory Services, the Chief Legal Officer, the Service Director HR and Communications, Chief Officer Audit and Risk and such other as is appropriate having regard to the decision being made. Such officers will respond as soon as possible and certainly within 3 working days."

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Borders landfill's 2018 greenhouse gas emissions


Scottish Borders Council's Easter Langlee landfill site on the outskirts of Galashiels continued to produce a cocktail of harmful greenhouse gases in 2018...the site's last full year of operation.

Figures published at the weekend -  several months late - by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) show Easter Langlee pumped 384,000 kilos of methane into the atmosphere during 2018 bringing the rubbish tip's ten year total to more than 3.6 million kilos.

Last July the council ended landfilling of waste at Easter Langlee by signing a contract to have tens of thousands of tonnes of household waste from the region transferred north by road to a treatment centre in Lanarkshire.

That move followed the failed multi-million pound plan for a custom-built processing facility on the Easter Langlee site, and allowed SBC to beat the landfill ban soon to be imposed by the Scottish Government.

SBC representatives believe an end to burying rotting garbage below ground at Langlee will lead to a significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions. So the 2019 data should indicate whether that is actually happening.

The new data for the previous twelve months is contained in SEPA's Scottish Pollution Release Inventory and includes figures for all of Scotland's commercial, municipal, industrial and agricultural operations which produce greenhouse gases.

Easter Langlee remains by far the Borders region's major polluter with significant releases of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) as well as methane.

CFCs and HCFCs are classified as being far more damaging to the atmosphere than methane with both products having an annual reporting threshold of just 1 kilogram. The equivalent methane threshold is 10,000 kilos per annum.

At Easter Langlee emissions of CFCs in 2018 totalled 17 kilos, far less than the 38.3 kilos produced in 2017 and the 27.4 kilos logged in 2016.

The HCFC count for 2018 was 18.9 kilos (26.5 kilos in 2017 and 21.4 kilos in the year before that).

A further statistic shows emissions of methyl chloroform from the Borders site (reporting threshold 10 kilos) in 2018 amounted to 19.1 kilos. The figures for 2017 and 2016 were 21.5 kilos and 21.6 kilos respectively.

The volumes of methane emanating from Easter Langlee in each of the last ten years was:

2009 - 567,000 kilos; 2010 - 274,000 kilos; 2011 - 197,000 kilos; 2012 - 308,000 kilos; 2013 - 300,000 kilos; 2014 - 361,000 kilos; 2015 - 403,000 kilos; 2016 - 356,000 kilos; 2017 - 451,000 kilos; and 2018 - 384,000 kilos.

SEPA's own briefing note on methane says one of the main sources of the gas being emitted into the environment is from the natural decomposition of plant and animal matter in airless conditions.  The UK's biggest man-made source of methane is from rotting rubbish in landfills. Methane is also released during the mining and distribution of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas).

According to SEPA: "On a local scale, build-up of methane poses an explosion hazard which can result in evacuation of areas over old landfills or mines.The main impact of methane is on a global scale, as a greenhouse gas. Although levels of methane in the environment are relatively low, its high 'global warming potential' (21 times that of carbon dioxide) ranks it amongst the worst of the greenhouse gases."

So far as CFCs are concerned, SEPA says: "At a global level releases of CFCs have serious environmental consequences. Their long lifetimes in the atmosphere mean that some end up in the higher atmosphere (stratosphere) where they can destroy the ozone layer, thus reducing the protection it offers the earth from the sun's harmful UV rays.

"CFCs also contribute to Global Warming (through 'the Greenhouse Effect'). Although the amounts emitted are relatively small, they have a powerful warming effect (a very high 'Global Warming Potential')".

On HCFCs the environmental watchdog has this to say: "Hydrochlorofluorocarbons are a large group of compounds, whose structure is very close to that of Chlorofluorocarbons  but including one or more hydrogen atoms. 

"In particular, HCFCs are now used as refrigerants (in refrigerators, freezers and air conditioning systems) and also in insulative foams. The use of HCFCs as solvents is now being phased out in developed countries and has been banned in the UK since 2001. 

"Although not as stable and therefore not so persistent in the atmosphere as CFCs, HBFCs or Halons, they can still end up in the higher atmosphere (stratosphere) where they can destroy the ozone layer"

Friday, 20 March 2020

A little help from Auld Reekie!


Not Just Sheep & Rugby understands a nationwide investigation into the extent of lending between UK local authorities will reveal some startling results with debt-ridden councils seemingly able to find spare cash to bail out their neighbours or 'colleagues' further afield.

We recently published details of the 55 loans currently held by Scottish Borders Council from the UK Government's Public Works Loans Board (PWLB), between them carrying an outstanding total sum of £159.6 million at the end of the last financial year. Those loans - some will not be settled until the 2050s - require a £14 million annual contribution from local council taxpayers to service the debt.

But it has been revealed subsequently via a Freedom of Information request that SBC borrowed a total of £20 million from City of Edinburgh Council in four separate short-term financial transactions between December 2016 and April 2018. The money was required for "general cash flow purposes", according to SBC's response to the FOI requester.

Edinburgh council's largesse in these circumstances is all the more remarkable given the city's level of indebtedness to the PWLB...96 separate loans totalling £922 million as of March 2019.

Here are the details of the four loans arranged by SBC with City of Edinburgh Council acting as bankers:

Start date        maturity date      amount           rate     interest paid        total repaid
21/12/2016       20/3/2017       £6 million       0.40%   £5,852.05           £6,005,852.05
23/3/2017         12/4/2017       £6 million       0.45%   £1,479.45           £6,001,479.45
30/3/2017           7/4/2017       £3 million       0.50%   £328.77              £3,000,328.77
  2/3/2018         24/4/2018       £5 million       0.65%   £4,986.30           £5,004,986.30

As far as can be ascertained this list of financial deals is not publicly minuted in council records. The FOI response does not indicate who made the arrangements or whether elected councillors knew about or sanctioned the inter-council lending.

The FOI also confirms that Scottish Borders Council has not loaned money to any other councils in recent years.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

"The council can neither confirm nor deny..."


Allegations of bullying and harassment at Scottish Borders Council's troubled adult care company are at the centre of an intriguing 'judgement' by Scotland's information commissioner who has ruled in the local authority's favour.

It means SBC was correct when it chose to neither confirm nor deny the existence of correspondence relating to four named individuals who were suspended from their posts at SB Cares last year.

SB Cares was the arms length business which had to be taken back into full council control at the end of 2019 after it encountered multiple difficulties and failed to live up to the expectations outlined when councillors sanctioned its foundation.

The Scottish Information Commissioner's (SIC) decision notice published this week summarises a Freedom of Information [FOI] request and the council's response as follows: "The Council was asked for correspondence regarding four named individuals. The Council refused to confirm or deny whether it held the information. The Commissioner investigated and found that Council was entitled to refuse to confirm or deny whether it held the information."

In June 2019 the FOI applicant made a request for information to SBC. He asked for copies of all Council and SB Cares correspondence, both email and letters, regarding: (i) the employment status and availability of four named SB Cares staff, over the last six months and (ii) the behaviour of the four named SB Cares staff, over the last six months.

In its response the council notified the requester that it was unable to confirm or deny whether it held any information falling within the scope of his request. The Council cited section 18(1) of FOISA and said that, if it held the information, the exemption in section 38(1)(b) of FOISA (third party personal data) would apply.

Margaret Keyse, the SIC's Head of Enforcement, in her decision notice, states: "The applicant applied to the Commissioner for a decision in terms of section 47(1) of FOISA. The applicant stated he was dissatisfied with the outcome of the Council's review because the information had already been reported in the press and the public interest outweighed concerns of confidentiality."

She explains that Section 18(1) of FOISA allows public authorities to refuse to confirm or deny whether they hold information in the following limited circumstances:  a request has been made to the authority for information which may or may not be held by it; and if the information existed and was held by the authority (and it need not be), it could give a refusal notice on the basis the information was exempt information.

Ms Keyse's report adds: "In his application, the applicant submitted that the names of the four individuals he named in his request had "…already been named in the local press" and argued that the public interest in allegations of bullying in a care setting outweigh the confidentially that the Council wishes to protect.

"The Applicant subsequently provided the Commissioner with a copy of a news article published two days after he made his request for information which names one of the four individuals, and which also states that four staff have been suspended while an investigation into allegations is carried out.

"The Commissioner acknowledges that the name of one of the four individuals was publicly linked with workplace allegations two days after the Applicant made his information request. However, he notes that the Council, at that time, had not issued any public statement regarding the identity of the four individuals, and that essentially all the article demonstrates is speculation in the media. Furthermore, as the newspaper article was published two days after the information request was made, it was not in the public domain at the time of the request."

The Council submitted that, given the wording of the applicant's request, any documents falling within the scope of that request consisted of material which would, if it existed and was held, be the personal data of the individuals involved.

"The applicant named the four individuals in his request and sought all Council and SB Cares correspondence relating to their behaviour or employment status and availability in the preceding six months.

"Each part of the request is framed by reference to a named living individual. Given that, and the subject matter of the request (their behaviour or employment status, etc.), if it were held and if it existed, any information captured by this request would clearly relate to that named individual. The Commissioner therefore accepts that, if it existed and were held, the information would be personal data."

Ms Keyse continues: "The Council has acknowledged that the Applicant does have a legitimate interest in disclosure of the information (if it existed and was held), as it would relate to allegations of bullying in a care setting which is a matter of public concern.

"In the circumstances, the Commissioner is satisfied that these are matters of legitimate interest, both to the applicant and to the wider public and is satisfied that the applicant does have a legitimate interest in obtaining the personal data. The Commissioner has considered the scope of the applicant's request and he accepts that disclosure of the personal data, if in existence and held, would be necessary to achieve the applicant's legitimate interest."

The Commissioner has concluded that the disclosure of the information (if existing and held) would be necessary to achieve the applicant's legitimate interests. However, this must be balanced against the fundamental rights and freedoms of the data subjects (the individuals named by the applicant as being subject to allegations). 

"Only if the legitimate interests of the applicant outweighed those of the data subjects could personal data be disclosed without breaching the first data protection principle.

"After carefully balancing the legitimate interests of the applicant against the interests or fundamental rights or freedoms of the data subjects, the Commissioner finds that the legitimate interests served by disclosure of any information held would be outweighed by the unwarranted prejudice that would result to the rights and freedoms or legitimate interests of the individuals in question in this case.

The applicant had argued that the public have a right to know how their money is managed and that the public have a right to know the details of any mismanagement in order to make an informed decision about their care or the care of a loved one. 

He also noted that SB Cares was a major employer in the Scottish Borders, and prospective employees had a right to know what sort of organisation was trying to hire them, especially when there were allegations of bullying and harassment.

"The Commissioner has given serious consideration to the arguments made by the applicant, but he would note that, while prospective employees may wish to know the details of any allegation of workplace bullying, they would also want reassurance that their personal data would be properly protected in the light of any allegation they themselves may receive in the workplace.

"The test the Commissioner must consider is whether (having already concluded that the information, if it existed and were held, would be exempt from disclosure) it would be contrary to the public interest to reveal whether the information existed or was held.

Disclosure under FOISA was not simply disclosure to the person requesting the information, but rather was a public disclosure. In this case, the Commissioner was satisfied that disclosing the information, if it were held and existed, would breach the first data protection principle.

"While the Commissioner has a deal of sympathy with the public interest arguments put forward by the applicant, he is aware that the action of confirming or denying whether the information exists or is held would have the effect of confirming whether the allegations made are accurate. This would, of itself, lead to the Council breaching its duties as data controller under data protection legislation. In the circumstances, the Commissioner must find that it would be contrary to the public interest for the Council to reveal whether it held the requested information, or whether the information existed."

Sunday, 15 March 2020

£20 million project needed as Tweed "little known nationally"


An initiative aimed at attracting tens of thousands of extra visitors to the Scottish Borders is expected to progress further this week despite the looming threat of Coronavirus which threatens to bring the tourist industry to a standstill.

It is estimated that Destination Tweed, the name given to the ambitious project by Scottish Borders Council (SBC), the Tweed Forum and other partners, will cost £20 million to implement as part of the much vaunted Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal.

This week members of the influential Executive at SBC will be asked to sanction a contribution of £174,000 from council coffers to help with the initial phase of Destination Tweed.

A report to councillors claims: "Whilst the Tweed has an incredible array of natural, built and cultural heritage concentrated in and around its banks, it is little known at a national level.

"The rural economy is increasingly fragile, with the traditional industries such as textiles, farming and fishing being in decline. Tourism can be core to the region’s future and has huge potential. This project will showcase the extraordinary assets and experiences on offer."

The assertion that the Borders river has a low national profile is made even though the Tweed provides one of the richest and best known salmon angling facilities in the entire world.

This week's report from Rob Dickson, Executive Director at SBC provides the background to the Destination Tweed initiative,

He says: "This is a large scale strategic project that is aiming to join up an ambitious range of assets, facilities, businesses and activities. It has the potential to raise the visitor profile of the area nationally and internationally. 

"Currently, it is anticipated that the project will cost approximately £20 million, with £11 million being budgeted as part of the Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal.  A shared use trail will connect Moffat to Berwick-upon-Tweed and beyond, providing a focal point for a wide range of conservation and enhancement projects throughout. 

"This cross-border approach helps to support the strategic nature of the project and make it relevant in a Borderlands context. Each year an estimated 375,000 visitors will enjoy the 100-mile route, underpinned by an innovative interpretive experience."

The various facets of the plan as outlined by Mr Dickson include the following possibilities: " The Tweed Trail giving users a complete and accessible experience from beyond the source to the sea, stretching from Moffat in Dumfries & Galloway to Berwick upon Tweed in Northumberland. 

"Archaeology projects that assess, interpret and inform the conservation of archaeological assets along the Tweed, uncovering new stories according to key themes that use the Tweed as a ‘timeline’.  The establishment of dedicated hub/launch points in each of the Upper, Middle, Lower sections to facilitate easy navigation of the Trail and knowledge sharing. For example, a restored Crook Inn could provide services like overnight accommodation, a cafĂ©, volunteer base and interpretation in the more remote Upper sections. Economic focused projects that harness existing assets, building business awareness and confidence, cross-selling, resilience and new services and products." 

The council's Executive members are told that at the outset of project planning, Tweed Forum identified a funding package that represented both the numerous partners engaged in the project, but also the financial commitment required for the development phase of Destination Tweed.

Tweed Forum currently has an application being processed by the National lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) to provide a further major contribution to the project costs (£2.98 million). 

"It is especially important that Scottish Borders Council demonstrates its commitment to the project in order to provide reassurance to funders like NLHF that the project will move forward and be delivered successfully.It is intended that the development phase of the project will run from March 2020 to March 2022".

The total cost of the development phase identified by Tweed Forum is £561,000. The match funding required from Scottish Borders Council is £174,500, which represents 31% of the overall cost of the development phase.

In a section of the report headed Risk and Mitigations it is claimed tourism development is a priority in the Scottish Borders Economic Strategy 2023 and in the Scottish Borders Tourism Strategy and Action Plan. 

"Product development is required to continue to develop the tourism sector and offer a level of support required to motivate and inspire businesses. The Council may suffer reputational damage if it does not show commitment to the development phase by declining to provide the required funding. In addition, if the development phase cannot be appropriately funded, then the project will not be able to progress, thus missing an opportunity for a major investment in the Scottish Borders."

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Council's 55 loans costing taxpayers £14 million a year


As Scottish Borders Council prepares to hit its hard-pressed residents with a maximum tax rise of well over four per cent for 2020/2021, many of the recipients of the local authority's demands will be unaware of the vast sums being swallowed up to service huge debts linked to decades of borrowing.

It may sound incredible, but the £14.366 million needed in 2019/20 to cover the cost of no fewer than 55 separate active loans with the Public Works Loans Board (PWLB) equates to 29.9% of the total raised in the Borders from council tax.

The Scottish Government expects the local tax to produce £47.965 million for SBC over the coming financial year. So when a further £10.999 million is added to the debt pile to settle the annual 'invoice' for Berwickshire's three PPP schools the total cost of interest charges and repayments reaches a somewhat staggering 52.88% of the local tax take.

There has been little if any mention of SBC's crippling financial liabilities and indebtedness during the recent budget discussions which centred on the apparent meanness of the SNP-led Government which has virtually forced the Tory controlled local authority to cut services and axe jobs yet again.

A modicum of research among the online files at PWLB produced a picture which shows many of those long-term loans will not be paid off until the 2050s. It should be said that virtually every Scottish local authority is burdened with debt, but that will be small comfort for present and future generations of Borders council taxpayers.

Meanwhile, a glance at the council's own annual accounts shows how the costs associated with debt servicing have spiralled over the last ten years.

In 2008/9 interest paid on council borrowing amounted to £11.652 million , more than £2.5 million less than that £14.366 million paid out in 2018/19.

And ten years ago the council held loans worth £122.842 million from PWLB. That compares with 2019's 55 outstanding loans with an outstanding balance of £159.631 million.

The so-called fair value of council loans with the Board back in 2009 is recorded as £159.060 million. The equivalent figure last year stood at £297.656 million.

The fair value of the council's total financial liabilities a decade ago was £248.549 million. The latest figure suggests the overall liability has now reached £365.780 million.

Local government debt in Scotland runs into many billions of pounds, yet all concerned seem content to allow the staggering amounts owed to the PWLB and others go on increasing. It is difficult to see how any firm in the private sector with a similar financial profile could remain in business.

For the information of Borders council taxpayers here is the complete list of loans currently held by SBC from the PWLB which were included in the Board's files at March 31st 2019. The chart shows the loan number on the PWLB register; when the final payment is due; the outstanding balance; the percentage interest rate*; and the year end value of each loan.

Number      Final payment   Balance £s 2019           *% rate       Year end Value £ 

470742              May 2020            285,835                     10.25                    327,867
470743              Nov 2020            285,835                     10.25                    341,607
471165               Apr 2021          1,015,632                     10.625               1,272,809
473501              May 2053            507,816                       8.0                   1,432,630
473605              May 2053              60,839                       7.875                  169,547
474006              Nov 2053         1,354,176                        7.0                   3,478,893
475853              Apr  2021         1,015,632                        8.5                   1,219,132
475858              Nov 2021            370,611                         8.5                     458,987
475862              Nov 2022            381,114                         8.5                     501,372
475865              Nov 2023            381,114                         8.5                     530,174
475882              Nov 2024            381,114                         8.5                     558,232
475883              Nov 2020            190,557                         8.5                     221,100
475969              Nov 2021            381,114                         8.25                   469,159
475970              Nov 2022            381,114                         8.25                   497,602
475971              Nov 2023            190,557                         8.25                   262,739
476010               Apr 2022          1,015,632                         8.125              1,285,118
476642               Oct 2055           2,031,264                         8.0                  5,982,517
476907              Nov 2055          2,031,264                         8.0                  5,972,548
478024              May 2055          1,692,720                         8.25                5,064,965
478025              May 2055          1,692,720                         8.25                5,064,965
478026              May 2055          1,692,720                         8.25                5,064,965
478027              May 2055          1,692,720                         8.25                5,064,965
478169              May 2054             677,088                         8.125              1,969,448
478170              May 2054             677,088                         8.125              1,969,448
478599              Nov 2053          1,963,556                         7.75                5,454,193
478761              Nov 2051          2,288,994                         7.375              5,912,770
478857              May 2051         1,354,176                          7.375             3,472,477
479394              May 2057         1,354,176                          7.125             3,722,897
479395              May 2057         1,354,176                          7.125             3,722,897
479396              May 2057         1,354,176                          7.125             3,722,897
479397              May 2057         1,354,176                          7.125             3,722,897
479398              May 2057         1,354,176                          7.125             2,722,897
479716               Apr 2027          1,291,858                          7.0                 1,957,757
479781              May 2026         1,608,589                          6.875             2,335,074
479782              May 2047         3,385,441                          6.875             7,688,490
480070              May 2057         1,354,176                          6.375             3,416,679
480318              Nov 2047         2,350,104                          6.25               5,031,012
480319              Nov 2034         1,354,176                          6.25               2,898,968
480563              Nov 2052         1,481,383                          6.0                 3,343,968                             
481031              May 2055        2,708,353                           5.375             5,858,345
481457              May 2054        2,071,264                           4.875             4,047,972
483700              Nov 2057        1,692,720                           4.875             3,523,166
483701              Nov 2057        1,692,720                           4.875             3,523,166
483770              Nov 2054        2,031,264                           5.25               4,286,859
483790              May 2054       1,354,176                            5.125             2,794,052
485625              May 2061       3,031,233                            5.125             6,807,011
493171              Nov 2052      10,000,000                           4.4               18,227,429
493289              Nov 2052      24,000,000                           4.6               45,049,586
494042              Nov 2052      24,000,000                           4.6               45,049,586
494179              Nov 2057        2,000,000                           4.48               3,922,179
499225              Dec 2021        7,500,000                           3.36               8,137,956           
505435              Sep 2026         4,000.000                           1.49               4,221,646
505745              Feb 2027         8,000,000                           2.05               8,805,943
506017              Mar 2027       10,000,000                          1.9               10,884,788
508149              Dec 2048       10,000,000                          2.74             13,188,542 

*Some interest rates are discounted.