TO judge by local newspaper headlines alone, the biggest story involving Scottish Borders Council since the last election has been the long and often messy process regarding the location of the new home of the Great Tapestry of Scotland.
Sometimes that debate got quite overwrought, even overly passionate, with some people not wanting a penny spent on it and signing petitions against it.
After a stop-start process which at one time threatened the whole project, the £6.7 million home for the Great Tapestry will be in the centre of Galashiels using the old Post Office and a new building that will also house a heritage centre paying tribute to the Borders’ textiles industry.
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The council debated long and hard on the location and now whoever takes over the administration of the council will bring the project to fruition. Stretching from Carlops just 16 miles south of Edinburgh city centre to the border with England at Lamberton in Berwickshire, the Borders takes in vast areas of farmland and moorland, the Tweed Valley and the towns of Galashiels, Hawick, Melrose, Selkirk, Peebles, and Jedburgh.
Once so heavily dependent on the textiles industry, Scottish Borders has been forced to diversify as that industry has contracted, though it is still a vital part of the local economy.
Agriculture and food and drink production are other vital sector of the economy, and tourism has been hugely boosted by the arrival of the Borders Railway which runs from Edinburgh to Tweedbank just south of Galashiels.
The Railway, which was officially opened on the day that she became Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, has been a major success with passenger figures far in excess of those forecast.
Now the big local issue about the railway is whether it should be extended to Hawick and eventually Carlisle. Transport Scotland’s decision to commission a feasibility study into extending the Borders Railway has been generally welcomed, with Carlisle Council leader Colin Glover the latest to signal approval for the cross-border project.
In common with every other local authority in Scotland, Scottish Borders Council has had to contend with decreased income and cuts have been made in staffing numbers: £1m worth of staff costs are being cut this year alone, half of that by management restructuring.
That this has been achieved without too much disruption to council services is not being boasted about by the coalition-run council. Instead they see it as the result of a flexible approach by politicians, management, trade unions and staff alike.
It has not been easy, and the outgoing administration formed by independents, the SNP and LibDems will concede that the pressure on councillors was tough – that’s why several of the best known councillors will not be standing next month.
With 75 candidates – 55 male, 20 female – standing for 34 seats across 11 wards, only the Conservatives can win enough seats to form a political party administration as they have 18 candidates. The SNP has the next biggest party cohort with 13 candidates while Labour are putting up seven candidates for a council where they are currently not represented.
As has been the norm in Borders politics for many years, much will depend on how many of the 20 independent candidates are elected on May 4.
The current leader of Scottish Borders Council is David Parker, himself an independent who is highly respected in local government circles.
The smart money has to be on one or other of the main parties joining with sufficient independents to form an administration after May 4.