SCOTTISH Borders Council has approved plans to install “specialist display cabinets” costing more than half a million pounds at the Great Tapestry of Scotland centre.
Based in Galashiels, the centre – which the council says is nearing the final phase of construction – will house the 143m-long Great Tapestry of Scotland.
A council report published before an executive committee meeting yesterday (January 19) stated that the cost of the tapestry’s display cabinets had “unfortunately” gone over budget.
At the meeting, members approved taking £316,000 from the 2021 Emergency & Unplanned Schemes fund to pay for the cabinets.
That figure adds to the £250,000 initially put aside for the cabinets in 2016 – taking the total cost of the cases to £566,000.
The council report described the units as “arguably the single most important element of the overall construction project”, which prompted Galashiels councillor Euan Jardine to ask the meeting why “substantial money wasn’t ring fenced in 2016” to cover their cost.
“I feel like at the eleventh hour you are coming to the executive meeting asking for money and if we say no today, would that put the whole tapestry project at risk?,” asked Mr Jardine.
“The Emergency & Unplanned budget is for things you don’t see coming round the corner, but if this is one of the most important aspects why didn’t you see this coming round the corner?”
In response, the council’s chief financial officer David Robertson said the “specialist display cabinets” are part of the council’s aim to “deliver something that is truly exceptional”.
“We were hoping to be able to use bog-standard display cabinets for a tapestry,” said Mr Robertson. “The reality is we have got an artefact here that is 143m long and [we have] spent £6.5 million on a building.
“I think the reality is the discussion with contractors has evolved over time where we feel that the overall experience of viewing the tapestry merits an increase on these display cabinets.
“The cost of display cabinets were always included, the cost of these display cabinets were probably not.”
Fellow Galashiels councillor Sandy Aitchison said that while the extra £316,000 “seems like a hell of a lot of money”, the cabinets were never going to cost “tuppence ha’penny”.
“If you walk through the door and you see display cabinets from IKEA, it will affect the visitor experience,” he said.
“These display cabinets are not coming from some fancy company in Germany or China. They are coming from a company in Scotland. This is going to be a Scottish project.”
SBC’s service director of assets and infrastructure, John Curry, added that the display cabinets would house the centre’s emergency lights as well as having “digital screen infographics”.
“These will be part of the building rather than a loose bit of furniture that can be moved around,” he said.
Mid Berwickshire councillor Mark Rowley, who is also SBC’s executive member for economic regeneration and finance, said the pandemic has resulted in “huge cost pressures” linked to making the building site COVID-safe.
“None of us knew that COVID was coming down the tracks,” he said. “These costs were set in 2016, we are now in 2021.
“There must have been huge cost pressures because we were off-site for three months [because of the pandemic]. I presume that makes up a significant amount of the cost here.”
He added: “It’s unfortunate that we are over budget on this. I am going to be controversial with this and say that it is a slightly modest amount.”
“We absolutely and utterly must finish this to the highest possible standard.”
Council leader Shona Haslam asked for clarification for the general public as to why this money was being taken from the Emergency & Unplanned budget considering “this is neither an emergency or unplanned”.
Mr Robertson said: “The Emergency & Unplanned budget is very much a contingency that we retain throughout the capital plan and order to provide additional support to those projects that, from time to time due to the scale, will require such support.”
He added that dipping into the emergency funds would have “no impact on any other project”.
The council says the tapestry centre will “attract over 50,000 visitors to Galashiels each year” – creating 16 jobs and almost £900,000 of extra spending per annum.