The Scottish Borders Chamber of Commerce kicked off its programme of network events last week at the Tontine Hotel, Peebles.
Jim Mather, former Scottish Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism in the previous SNP minority Government and now chairman of Gael Ltd, spoke on the topic of how small businesses can endure, grow and become successful in challenging times.
In an extremely well researched presentation, Mr Mather referred to the works of many notable business mentors such as W. Edward Deming, Dee Hock, Professor Ken Cloke, Steve Johnson and others, all of whom came to the conclusion that the West had become too obsessed with competition: an approach that was dangerously incomplete without some element of collaboration.
“Collaboration is a very misunderstood term, often being misinterpreted because of wartime references,” said Mr Mather. “However, collaboration is ever-present in those businesses that pass the test of time, – building up links, ideas and support from inside and outside, successful businesses, all feeding each other and benefiting as a result.”
Mr Mather went on to explain that competition, especially in the tendering process when more often than not the cheapest bidder wins, is never the answer. A successful and resilient business model needs to adopt the two-legged walk of increasing competitiveness and collaboration.
Mr Mather went on to review the model that he put into action in Argyll and Bute, where many small businesses began working together for the common good and became more customer focused.
He said: “The only factor that limited the potential of this initiative was the fact that I was wearing a political label at the time.”
Mr Mather felt that the chamber could provide political neutrality and hence be an effective facilitator for such a project in the Borders, where its political neutrality could enable Scottish Borders Council, the media and professional offices to play full and positive parts.
Thanking Mr Mather for his presentation, Gordon Innes, proprietor of the Tontine and director of Borders Chamber, said that what Mr Mather was proposing was very much one of the aspirations of the Chamber. He felt that a business organisation forum to be arranged in the near future, chaired by Councillor Stuart Bell was probably the place to discuss this further.
This network meeting was sponsored by Scottish & Southern Electricity (SSE) and Brian McFarlane, project director of SSE gave a short presentation on the wind farm projects currently in operation and at the planning stage in South Scotland.
Those in attendance were particularly interested in the jobs to be created during the building stages of up to four years and about the ongoing job requirements.