£3.65m bid to boost Hawick economy on way

MSP Paul Wheelhouse, centre, in Hawick with Scottish Borders Council leader David Parker, right, and fellow executive member Stuart Bell.
MSP Paul Wheelhouse, centre, in Hawick with Scottish Borders Council leader David Parker, right, and fellow executive member Stuart Bell.

Hawick could be set to undergo an economic rebirth after a cash windfall of almost £4m was announced this week.

Scottish Borders Council launched a Hawick action plan in March in a bid to help the town recover from the succession of economic body blows it has been hit by this year, including the closure of Hawick Knitwear in January, with the loss of 180 jobs.

The action plan highlights the need for a business hub and innovation centre to encourage start-ups and inward investment in the town.

Now those plans are set to become a reality after Scottish Government announced that Hawick is to be given £3.65m to spend on setting up such a hub, as well as helping revive its flagging town centre, retain existing businesses and promote new employment opportunities.

The grant aid was announced on Monday by business, innovation and energy minister Paul Wheelhouse at the Heart of Hawick cultural centre.

Mr Wheelhouse, one of the Scottish National Party’s regional list MSPs for the south of Scotland, said the cash support was evidence of the Government’s commitment to help the council deliver its action plan.

Now, the council will set about deciding how the money should be spent.

No announcement on a location for the business hub has yet been announced, but a number of potential sites are being considered.

It is also not yet clear whether it will be housed in a new building or an existing one.

Mr Wheelhouse said: “Hawick has suffered a number of economic blows this year, and this will help stimulate investment and improve business opportunities.

“Today is the sign of a commitment from the Government to help deliver the Hawick action plan and will help ensure that Hawick is a great place to live, work and invest in.

“One of the major concerns raised has been the state of the town centre, and the intention is to use the investment to improve footfall into the centre and help stimulate more retail trade and boost the tourism sector.

“We have been working to ensure that money reaches businesses, communities and individuals where it is most needed. Local businesses can be the engines of our economy, and strong local economies are crucial to success.”

Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall welcomed this week’s announcement but called on the council to push ahead quickly with the plans.

He said: “This is fantastic news for Hawick. It is the first step in addressing the needs of the town, but the details are still sketchy and there is a very tight timescale to work to.

“Now it is the time to try and work out the detail, and I have received assurances that councillors will be involved every step of the way.”

Monday’s announcement was part of a package of £10m to be distributed through the Government’s economic development fund, with Clackmannanshire, Fife and Irvine also benefiting.

Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP Calum Kerr is also pleased to see Hawick being given a helping hand, saying: “I’m absolutely delighted that the great potential of Hawick has been recognised and that the town has been allocated such a significant sum.

“It demonstrates the Scottish Government’s commitment to positively supporting communities by directing cash where it can be used to best effect.

“I’d like to highlight the huge amount of work Paul Wheelhouse has done in delivering this great boost for the town.

“Paul’s comprehensive local knowledge and appreciation of what the town requires in these difficult times has been a massive factor in the securing this funding.

“Following the Brexit referendum, we must do all we can to ensure stability and growth, and providing first-class facilities for businesses is key to the future prosperity of Hawick.”