Report’s grim reading for ‘at risk’ towns

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FIVE Border towns have been listed among Scotland’s most vulnerable rural communities to the economic downturns, writes Kenny Paterson.

Eyemouth was deemed the region’s town most at risk in the Scottish Agricultural College report – followed by Hawick, Galashiels, Newtown St Boswells and Langholm.

Indeed, last week Galashiels saw another national chain pull out of the town centre as troubled Clinton Cards at Douglas Bridge closed its doors for the last time on Thursday. It follows the loss of Semichem and Game in recent months, while the sight of an empty premises is also common in Hawick’s High Street.

John Lamont, MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, described the report’s findings as deeply concerning.

He added: “There are a considerable number of people in both Hawick and Eyemouth who are either finding it hard to get a job, or are on very low incomes. We need to help those living in deprivation by giving them practical help to find work opportunities and by bringing more jobs to the Borders.

“These statistics must act as a warning and we need to make sure that the next time they are published we see a marked improvement in the Borders.”

The study based its findings on four categories of economic wellbeing – number of people of working age, claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, working in the public sector and income levels.

But Borders MP Michael Moore believes the study is “extremely useful”.

He added: “The report shows the importance of small businesses, broadband and local services for our rural communities, and outlines that Scottish Government policy must recognise the specific characteristics of our rural communities and tailor service provision accordingly.

“I also agree that services such as broadband and local amenities such as post offices are vital to the sustainability of our rural communities. This is why I have welcomed the commitment from the UK Government to roll-out better broadband across the UK and end Labour’s post office closure programme which damaged many rural communities across the Borders.

“These are clearly challenging times for people here in the Borders and as local MP I am working with local business to boost employment and opportunities.

“This is why I welcomed the apprenticeship scheme set up by local textiles firms to enable young people to break into the job market.”

A lack of custom in Langholm recently led to a series of meetings attended by up to 40 traders from the Muckle Toon.

The firms decided to work with The Langholm Initiative, a group designed to improve the town’s social, physical and business environments, as well as approach BEAR Scotland, which is responsible for the main A7 road which passes through the middle of Langholm, and Dumfries and Galloway Council for help.

Langholm councillor Denis Male said: “Obviously there is concern among local traders, but the meetings are a positive step and should lead to a more attractive town centre which, in turn, will see more people, especially from the A7’s passing traffic, use the town’s shops.”