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Thursday, 14 February, 2002, 20:29 GMT
Council agrees to service cuts
Borders protest
Campaigners disrupted the council meeting
Councillors in the Borders have agreed a 5m cut in public services.

They have also voted through a 10% increase in council tax.

Earlier, the meeting was disrupted when up to 300 people joined a protest outside Borders Council chamber's windows.

It was suspended but resumed later after council leader Drew Tulley agreed to speak to the demonstrators.

Speaker at protest
Up to 300 people joined the protest
Councillors were being asked to approve the cuts, despite protests by angry ratepayers about financial mismanagement, which has left the Borders millions of pounds in the red.

The Scottish National Party had tabled a motion asking for a delay in setting the budget, so that the Scottish Executive could be approached for help.

Cuts were proposed in a number of areas, including community education, funding for voluntary organisations and the closure of three local swimming pools.

The council said the moves were necessary to counteract the 4m overspend in the education budget in previous years.

Financial consequences

It said it also needs to find money to cover new costs created by the McCrone agreement on teachers' pay and an increased demand for special educational services.

Mr Tulley agreed to protesters' demands to address them and said afterwards: "It was disappointing that the meeting was disrupted because important decisions have to be made.

"We've got to declare a legal budget and to delay the thing any further would have significant financial consequences for the council."

SNP group leader, Councillor David Parker, appealed for the executive to assist the council in sorting out the financial crisis.

He said: "We have suffered from financial chaos. What we need now is a period of stability and the Scottish Executive can help us out."

'No other way'

"There are special circumstances here and the executive should recognise that."

Mr Parker claims that, with the 711m underspent on its own budget, it would be easy for the executive to find a few millions for the Borders, in the shape of an interest-free loan.

But Mr Tulley said there was no alternative to the cuts.

Drew Tully
Drew Tully: Addressed the demonstrators
He said: "Any loan taken would have to be repaid, which would mean extra debt charges being brought into future years' budgets."

Increasing the council tax was not an option either, he said, as to raise 6m would mean a hike of 28%.

For years the region has been proud of setting a council tax amongst the lowest in Scotland - but now a hike of 10% is to be put in place.

Even with the extra revenue and 14.5m of extra cash from the Scottish Executive, the LibDem/Independent controlled council was still more than 5m in the red, and cuts had to be made.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Education correspondent Martha Fairlie reports
"Scottish Borders Council was a building under seige this morning"
Angela Soave reports
"No-one expected the axe to fall so heavily"
See also:

14 Feb 02 | Scotland
Council to cut services
05 Nov 01 | Scotland
MSPs probe Borders education
16 Oct 01 | Scotland
Budget cuts to aid education
09 Oct 01 | Scotland
Damning report over budget woes
29 Sep 01 | Scotland
Mounting anger at education cuts
20 Aug 01 | Scotland
Petition protest over education cuts
02 Aug 01 | Scotland
Council chalks up education cuts
26 Jun 01 | Scotland
Police probe 4m council deficit
26 Jan 00 | Scotland
Fears over school budget deficits
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