Business leaders are to be drafted in by Scottish Borders Council as its new coalition vowed last week to put economic development at the heart of its policies over the next five years.
TheSouthern can reveal that, for the first time, a special group of elected members will meet regularly to discuss how the council, the region’s largest employer with a £264million annual revenue spending budget, can encourage growth and maintain and increase private sector job opportunities.
And that members group will, according to SBC leader David Parker, “engage with existing businesses ... to get their involvement in our economic development activity”.
“It makes perfect sense, particularly since the demise of Scottish Enterprise Borders four years ago, which through its board gave some voice to company bosses, to get these people on board to advise on and help shape all they ways we can support business,” said Mr Parker.
Asked to put flesh on the bones of the key manifesto commitment of the new SNP/Independent/Lib Dem administration, Mr Parker told us: “Although we won’t be reopening the budget in its entirety, I do anticipate more financial resources being directed towards increased economic activity.
“We are going to change the way we deliver economic development by bringing all our officers involved in it to the centre of the council.”
The current budget has a barely significant £1.5milion set aside for economic development and a similar amount for business support.
The new manifesto reveals that a new and additional business loans fund, understood to be up to £1.5million, will be set up over the next six months “to provide appropriate support to business”.
“Through this measure and by breathing fresh life into the existing South of Scotland Loans Fund [with assets over £1million] we will allow local businesses to grow and have stable finances,” said Mr Parker.
Through its members’ group, SBC will make Borders businesses aware of grant opportunites, while planning applications for businesses will be given priority so developments are not delayed.
“Another key to economic growth is marketing the region,” said Mr Parker. “The one thing we have going for us more than many communities is that the Borders is a wonderful place to live with low crime, good schools and better public services than many other parts of the UK. We need to market these assets better to encourage people to expand their businesses in our region or consider setting up here.
“The railway is a huge economic development opportunity, both in its construction and what it will bring to the Borders when it is complete. We must ensure we have a proper targeted marketing campaign all ready to go the minute the link opens.”
SBS is also expected to support major tourism developments, such as the mountain biking chairlift project at Plora Law, Innerleithen, which would bring an estimated £15million a year into the Borders economy.”
The policies were franked by Councillor John Mitchell, who heads the nine-strong SNP group and has executive responsibility for finance.
“The economy is our number one priority – if we get that right everything else will follow,” he told us.
Meanwhile, the manifesto has won the blessing of the 10-strong Conservative opposition group on SBC.
Group leader Councillor Jim Fullarton told us this week: “We are happy with the new administration’s programme as, fundamentally, it is the same one we had agreed with the Independent councillors and the Lib Dems when we were seeking to form an administration partnership [after the May 3 election].
“We are therefore pleased the SNP group has signed up to it and we shall obviously be watching what the administration does in the coming months to ensure it implements this programme efficiently and effectively.”
TheSouthern has learned that the only stumbling block to the Tories, rather than the SNP, linking with the Independents and the Lib Dems in a coalition was their insistance that Councillor George Turnbull should be the executive member for education, a role he performed for the two years prior to the election.
As it turned out the Independents demanded that Borders Party councillor Sandy Aitchison should take that key job – and the SNP and Lib Dems concurred.
z Top jobs handed out – page 3