The possibility of the UK leaving the European Union was flagged up this week as a threat to the future funding of the business advisory service run by Scottish Borders Council.
With the new Conservative government committed to an “in-out” referendum, SBC’s executive heard that uncertainty over continued UK membership was considered a risk to the Selkirk-based Business Gateway which, in 2014/15, assisted 225 new business start-ups in the region.
“If we do not secure European funding then we may not have the resources to continue to deliver all aspects of the service to the same high standards,” reported Jim Johnstone, SBC’s principal officer (business).
In his 2015/16 business plan, Business Gateway manager Phil McCreadie commented: “Business start-up numbers are greater than expected and this reflects demand and the use of EU funding to extend our activities beyond the core national offering.”
That is a reference to the core funding – set at £331,000 in this financial year – which Business Gateway (which employs six full-time advisors and four part-time staff at Ettrick Riverside) receives from the Scottish Government, via SBC.
The long-term uncertainty over additional funding, however, failed to cloud an upbeat assessment of the service’s performance following implementation of an improvement plan a year ago, and the appointment of Mr McCreadie in October last year.
SBC’s executive heard that 27 of the 225 start-ups had the potential for high growth and that the service, described as a “one-stop shop for all business support enquiries” had delivered 84 start-up workshops and 76 local workshops attended by exactly 1,000 people.
More of the same is planned in the coming year, with advertised outreach advisory sessions planned for SBC contact centres and community centres.
Mr McCreadie said the opening of the railway in September was “the biggest opportunity in our area for many years, possibly a generation”.
“Business Gateway is at the forefront of the support for businesses to take advantage of the railway,” he added.
In his annual review, Bryan McGrath, SBC’s chief economic development officer, reported that the Scottish Borders Business Fund had received 64 applications and approved 51 grants worth £132,200 in 2014/15, creating 98 jobs and safeguarding another 167.
In addition, six applications to the Scottish Borders Business Loan Fund had been approved. Worth £71,600, these were projected to create 32 new jobs.
There had also been a steady demand for the council’s portfolio of industrial units, yards and shops with 30 new leases, generating annual income of £158,000, signed in 2014/15.
The current occupancy level is 91%.