Borders chamber chief’s business unity call

BUSINESS organisations in the Borders can win a far better deal for the region if they are prepared to work together and speak with a single voice, according to the convener of the Scottish Borders Chamber of Commerce.

James Aitken was speaking at a top-level meeting organised by Scottish Borders Council at the weekend.

The event, at the council headquarters in Newtown St Boswells, was organised to discuss creating a Borders Business Forum which would provide a single campaigning voice for businesses’ interests right across the region.

In his speech, Mr Aitken, a lawyer, warned that without such a forum, the views of business in the Borders will struggle to be heard.

“It is very easy for politicians to ignore us if we are not clear in what we are asking or arguing for,” he said.

“It is no exaggeration to say that these are momentous times for Scotland. There will be a referendum on independence in 2014. Scotland could again be independent by 2016. Then there is the possibility of a referendum on UK membership of the European Union.

“These are some of the reasons we need a Borders Business Forum.”

Mr Aitken warned that the lack of a unified campaigning front representing Borders business has had damaging consequences in the past, including the original loss of the railway in the 1960s, recent threats to its re-opening, the loss of the Border Reivers professional rugby team and the lack of improvement to local trunk roads.

He is not, he said, arguing that existing business organisations should disband and create a single entity. “The idea of a Borders Business Forum is not that we will agree on everything. Of course we won’t.

“There are, though, certain issues that we could come together and debate. These might include the campaign to extend the Waverley line to Carlisle, superfast broadband, the quality of our TV and media coverage and the dualling of the A1 to the English border. There are of course others.

“There are also so many great things going here in the Borders that we need to let more people know about. There’s the new visitor centre at Abbotsford House, and Eyemouth Harbour can now receive cruise ships. Our first crematorium is now in operation and a second is planned. Then there’s the new 3G sports arena.”

Other exciting events which deserve wider promotion, he said, include the Borders Book Festival, the Border Union Show, common ridings and rugby sevens tournaments.

“Plans are now in place for a purpose-built mountain bike chairlift at Innerleithen. A site has been found for the Bill McLaren Museum and of course there’s the start of construction of our railway.”

“My idea of a Borders Business Forum is not a body that imposes its thoughts and ideas on all the business organisations in the Borders. It is not a governing body. Business organisations can play as much of a role as they wish and one that they are comfortable with.

“Think of how much stronger we would be if we shared some of our knowledge and resources. And think how strong our voice could be if we speak as one on the major business issues affecting the Borders.”