The burgeoning appetite of Borderers to start their own businesses should be harnessed to transform our ailing town centres.
That was the consensus which emerged from last week’s meeting of Scottish Borders Council’s economic development group.
“Addressing the stagnation in our town centres – especially, but not exclusively, in our main settlements of Galashiels and Hawick – is perhaps the toughest challenge we face,” said Councillor Michelle Ballantyne.
Highlighting the impact of online shopping and the competitive pressure of major supermarkets, she added: “Life has changed, the retail footfall has gone and we cannot go back.”
Earlier, the group heard a positive report on economic activity in the Borders during the last six months.
Bryan McGrath, SBC’s chief officer for economic development, revealed that the local authority’s Business Gateway team had assisted 115 new start-ups over that period, eight of which had the “potential for high growth”.
In addition, the council had received 102 property enquiries and had arranged 21 new commercial leases.
He also acknowledged the success of a small business centre in Kelso’s Horsemarket which officially opened last month thanks to funding from the EU, the council and national lottery.
“I believe this could be the way to go,” said Kelso councillor Simon Mountford, adding: “I think there will be a demand for accessible, serviced, short-term lease offices or desk space in or close to our town centres which will be handy for shops, cafes and other facilities.”
Mr McGrath confirmed there was currently a lack of such units outwith the Riverside Business Centre in Selkirk and Cavalry Park in Peebles, but agreed to look at property availability in towns with a view to expanding provision.
“The idea of incubation business units in town centres has been tried elsewhere and been successful,” said Gordon Henderson, representing the Federation of Small Businesses. “People think retail is the key to vibrant town centres, but that’s no longer the case,” he added.
The group heard that the new two-year post of Galashiels town centre co-ordinator had been filled and the successful candidate, yet to be named, will start on December 1.