THE devolution of more powers to community councils is a key policy commitment of the Borders Party as it gears up for the Scottish Borders Council elections in May next year.
And this week, Councillor Nicholas Watson revealed his party, which opposes the return of a Borders railway, would put up candidates in all 11 wards, with eight already confirmed and the recruitment process continuing for the other three.
At the last polls in 2007, the new faction fielded five candidates across the 11 multi-member wards and returned two councillors to Newtown – leader Watson in Leaderdale and Melrose and Sandy Aitchison in Galashiels and District – a 40 per cent strike rate.
In anticipation of success in the two Hawick divisions, where at least one of the six sitting councillors, the Lib Dem Jock Houston, will not be standing again, Mr Watson has launched a Hawick Action Plan which, he claims, is designed to reinvigorate the economy of the region’s largest town and improve local services.
“Although we have Hawick specifically in mind with this manifesto, the sort of measures it contains, particularly giving more powers to community councils and giving local people more control over common good funds, are ones we would be keen to see rolled out across the Borders,” explained Mr Watson.
The Borders Party has outlined a six-point package, designed, according to its leader, to restore Hawick’s position as an economic powerhouse in the region.
“It’s all about passing control back to local people and building on the town’s superb industrial and cultural strengths”, he said.
Arguably the most radical proposal is ceding more decision-making to the community council. The party wants dedicated SBC staff based in Hawick, answerable to the community council which would prioritise cleaning, maintenance and other services.
The councillor stated: “We believe local people can make a big difference to the way Borders towns look and feel.
“Hawick in Bloom, Welcome Hosts and the Christmas lights initatives make an enormous contribution, yet face the annual struggle to find money and volunteers, while services provided by SBC often have little or no input.
“The new arrangements would be subject to a plebiscite of Hawick residents so a strong mandate is secured about new duties prior to community council elections.”
The party wants to create a new advisory group, comprising respected local people, to provide financial oversight to the Hawick Common Good Fund which would be “controlled locally in the local interest” with SBC, as trustees, undertaking to act under guidance from this body.
“Who knows, once people feel the common good is back in local hands, they might even make bequests to it again,” said Mr Watson.
He also wants a new approach to promoting Hawick cashmere, building on the town’s manufacturing traditon and exploiting the potential to promote the town as a destination for shoppers from across the UK.
He told us: “We would work with the industry and wider business, potential investors and local representatives to create the best framework for co-operation, planning and promotion.
“Instead of a place tourists drive through, they could be encouraged to stay a night or two and it was good to see top model Stella Tennant from the Borders help put Hawick cashmere on the map in this month’s edition of American Vogue.”
The party says jobs in the town must be available to local people. “We will work with Hawick’s schools and Borders College to promote technical skills, work experience and apprenticeships to match labour force requirements”, he said.
On transport links, Mr Watson said his party will lobby for the A7 to be have trunk road status restored across its entire length to shorten journey times between Hawick and Edinburgh. It would also seek to establish an express non-stop bus service to the capitsal via the A68.
Finally, the manifesto offers support to all efforts to restore and improve Wilton Lodge Park as one of the finest heritage parks in the region and a major attraction for visitors.