It is not unreasonable for Scottish Borders Council to be asked for more information on how the Borders Railway may impact on the business case for a £6million Great Tapestry of Scotland visitor centre.
This was stated by Councillor Stuart Bell (SNP), executive member for economic development, after meeting with Scottish culture minister Fiona Hyslop MSP in Edinburgh last week.
The meeting, also attended by SBC leader David Parker and chief executive Tracey Logan along with tapestry trustee Alistair Moffat, had been requested after Ms Hyslop revealed she had asked in January for a “fully revised business case” for the Tweedbank project before funding of £2.5m – from the Scottish Government’s railway blueprint programme – could be sanctioned and released.
News of this demand was conveyed in a letter from Ms Hyslop to local MSP Christine Grahame on February 11 – the same day the council voted down a Conservative motion to scrap its £3.5m capital commitment to the building.
At Thursday’s full council meeting, Mr Bell was asked by Councillor Gavin Logan (Con) to explain why councillors had not been informed of Ms Hyslop’s position at the February 11 meeting.
Mr Bell told him: “The Cabinet Secretary [Ms Hyslop] requested further information regarding the tapestry project in early January, but the nature and format of this information was still the subject of discussion between civil servants and council officers at the time of the last council meeting.
“The letter from the Cabinet Secretary which refers to a fully revised business case was not sent to me until 7.32pm in the evening of February 11, so I was not aware of her position in advance of the council meeting.”
Referring to his meeting with Ms Hyslop the previous evening (Wednesday), Mr Bell said: “There is no commitment to producing a further, fully revised business case … The Cabinet Secretary has confirmed she is committed to delivering a successful project in the Borders and we have now agreed a due diligence process [of the current business plan] which will enable this council to give the appropriate level of assurance to allow the funding to be released.
“We expect to be able to complete this process in the coming weeks.”
Mr Logan asked for an assurance that no construction work would begin at Tweedbank until the revised business case had been debated by the council.
He was told by Mr Bell: “I can give no such assurance because, as I have stated, there will be no revised business case, rather a process of due diligence on a case which will include additional information on the significant positive impact [on the project] of the Borders Railway. This is not unreasonable.”
Conservative councillor George Turnbull asked if the tapestry project would be aborted if the Scottish Government did not come up with the £2.5million.
“That is likely to be the outcome,” said Mr Bell. “However, it would continue to be crucial to consider what we would do to address the need for tourist and visitor facilities at Tweedbank.
“If we are to maximise the full potential economic benefits of the railway as set out in the blueprint to which we are co-signatories, then we urgently need facilities at Tweedbank which celebrate and signpost what we have to offer throughout the region.”