Calum Kerr: Council deserve full credit for IT deal

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The news this week that the Borders has won a fantastic new Scottish IT Centre of Excellence is the biggest economic investment boost we’ve had for years.

The scale of this project really is huge. We’re getting 200 new jobs and the potential to inject more than £100 million into our local economy.

It’s a fantastic deal, and one which Scottish Borders Council must take full credit for. The global IT company CGI is going to provide the authority with state-of-the-art technology to deliver streamlined systems and first-class customer services.

The council’s 49 existing IT staff will keep their jobs and continue to be based in the Borders, and local young people will be offered modern apprenticeships.

Critically, though, CGI has decided to bring more of its clients here by basing its new UK service centre in the Borders. That’s a huge win for us with terrific jobs and investment implications.

We’ve done well out of this at a number of levels. For a start, CGI will now improve the speed of six telephone exchanges across the Borders. That has the potential to offer faster broadband for schools, businesses and the homes.

The deal also helps to address the challenges we face herein terms of jobs and IT skills. This contract will boost both.

One thing which was critical to the deal was our Borders Railway. It wouldn’t have happened without it and the improved communications it brings. This is another example of how the line is a major success.

But the real kudos here has to go to the council. It’s a visionary deal which goes beyond anything we could have expected, and the authority deserves full credit for securing such a positive package.

I’ve been holding regular meetings with councillors and officials since I was elected last May and have built a first-class relationship with them.

I also privately met some of the council’s IT staff who were particularly worried that their jobs would be outsourced and go elsewhere. That now hasn’t happened.

With my 20 years in the telecoms industry before I entered politics, I’m a strong advocate of jobs in IT – it offers a great career and is just the sort of thing we need here.

I’ve met the council’s director of education to discuss improving digital learning and qualifications in our schools, and that’s something which will be immensely helpful to companies like CGI. I also had a good conversation with the company’s UK president, Tim Gregory, at the project launch this week and we’ve arranged to meet again at Westminster.

I want to be of as much assistance as possible. The more dialogue we have, the better we’ll get to know each other, and the more use I can be as CGI goes from success to success – something which will hopefully mean more investment and jobs here. It’s a fantastic deal and a fantastic opportunity.

Now let’s ensure we make the most of it.