Enterprising answer for town

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The Scottish Government-arranged meeting about Hawick was certainly a step in the right direction.

Around 30 local business owners attended, as did representatives from the public sector, so there were a range of ideas brought to the table about what needs to be done. My main contribution to the day was to suggest the creation of an enterprise zone for the town.

It has now become clear that because of the extent of pressure on the textile industry and closures elsewhere, something radical and co-ordinated needs to happen to reverse Hawick’s fortunes.

An enterprise zone is not a new idea, but it hasn’t happened in the Borders and there are none in Scotland which apply to all businesses in a particular town.

It would offer incentives to businesses to come to Hawick or for enterprises already here to expand by providing business tax relief, a fast-track planning process and by prioritising key services like superfast broadband and skills and development support.

Put simply, setting up an enterprise zone would send out a clear message that Hawick is open for business. Not only would this revive our town centre, but, crucially, it means more jobs and more investment.

It’s important to note that this idea wouldn’t cost an awful lot of money. Providing tax cuts for businesses does mean less coming in, but if these are businesses which would otherwise be elsewhere, then any tax receipts are a bonus.

Others at the meeting seemed to like the proposal. This isn’t a particularly party-political idea, although reducing business tax and regulation is often seen as a Conservative policy.

I’ve written to the business minister to provide a little more detail of what I am proposing and to keep the pressure up. I hope the SNP government will support my idea.

As I’ve said before, warm words and meetings are just simply not going to cut it. Hawick needs a radical plan to get it back on track.

Teenage Smoking

Figures out recently show the percentage of 15-year-olds in the Borders regularly smoking is among the highest in Scotland.

It’s certainly encouraging that this figure has fallen, but it is still too high.

No 15-year-old should be regularly smoking now that the legal age for buying and selling cigarettes is 18, so for 10% to be doing so in the Borders shows we need to take action.

Efforts by schools and NHS Borders to make sure youngsters are not only aware of the risks associated with smoking, but also what help is available for those looking to kick the habit, need to be stepped up.

But we also need to ensure that the current law is properly enforced.

A few years ago, the Scottish Parliament increased the age at which youngsters can smoke from 16 to 18.

There seems hardly any point in changing the law, particularly when one in 10 15-year-olds, who were not even meant to be buying cigarettes under the old law, are currently smoking regularly.

The current law is meant to prevent retailers from selling tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18, but it seems these laws are not being enforced.