There has been a mixed reaction locally to Scottish Borders Council’s involvement in a £1.1billion city region deal.
The deal – a joint initiative by the UK and Scottish Governments which took two years to reach an agreement on – was hailed by council leader Shona Haslam as “excellent news for the Scottish Borders (see page 5).
Chairman of the Scottish Borders Chamber of Commerce (SBCC), Jack Clark, has welcomed the announcement, which came last Thursday, and which promises £600million ti become available in the area to help business investment in innovation, infrastructure, housing, tourism and culture.
Mr Clark said: “This is thoroughly excellent news for the Borders. SBCC has always been supportive of the creation of a city deal for Edinburgh and south east Scotland.
“The evidence from other chambers in areas where city deals already exist – such as Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness – is that, indeed, these arrangements do provide a significant boost to private sector investment and help stimulate business growth.
“That’s exactly what the Borders needs and I join with Mrs Haslam in welcoming this excellent initiative. I look forward to seeing local businesses benefit from this injection of capital and from the back-up support and enthusiasm on offer from government.”
Mr Clark added: “It is now up to individual businesses to look into the possibilities this new City Deal offers their companies.
“If any business people want advice or to talk to some local business experts on this or any other subject, they should make a point of coming along to the Borders Business Hub marquee (Stand 27) at the Border Union Show this coming weekend in Kelso.”
However, SBC councillor Stuart Bell, who is leader of the SNP opposition at the council, but had worked on the preparatory discussions over the last two years as a member of the ruling coalition, said that although he welcomed the announcement, he felt that any benefits to the Borders was not clearly laid out.
He said: “Last week’s pubic announcement is certainly not clear about new benefits that might accrue to the Scottish Borders. All that has been signed so far is a so-called “heads of terms” agreement, but there is no clear timescale for any full agreement which would allow us to know what might – or might not – come to the Borders.
“The agreement suggests there will be investment in new housing at Tweedbank.
“This is great, but it is not clear whether the governments will actually fund anything or will only support the local authority to borrow the funds.
“There is a big difference for Borders taxpayers between getting funding in the form of a Capital Grant and getting borrowing authority – in simple terms borrowing will have to be paid back.”
“Also, the heads of terms is not explicitly clear if there will be funding for a textile innovation centre, based on the successful Heriot Watt campus. This was an important opportunity which we have been championing for some years.
“The document fails to go into detail on how the whole scheme will be managed, beyond calling for “strong and effective leadership and governance.”
Mr Bell added: “There is good news, though, in that the deal recognises that there will have to be particular care taken to ensure that any new arrangements for governance of a city deal will fit with the new South of Scotland Enterprise Agency.
“My own view is that this latter organisation may be of much more real benefit to the rural Borders economy that we might expect from a city deal.
“If a deal will actually deliver financial benefits without strings attached we should welcome it, but the devil is in the detail and we don’t yet know the detail.”