Plans to set up a training centre in Hawick for textile industry workers and expand the town’s Borders College campus as part of a near £7.7m funding package have been welcomed by councillors there.
As reported in last week’s Southern, that money is to be paid out over two years by the South of Scotland Economic Partnership, a forerunner to a regional enterprise agency being launched in 2020.
The aim of the planned centre for excellence for textile workers is to tackle what Scottish Borders Council describes as a critical skills shortage hampering companies’ efforts to boost their productivity.
Awarded funding of £610,00, it is one of four enterprise projects intended to reinvigorate the south of Scotland’s economy.
The partnership is handing out £7.68m altogether, and £6.6m of that will be split between Borders College and Dumfries and Galloway College to create a physical and digital hub network to provide better access to training in health and social care, renewable energy, engineering and construction.
Hawick’s Borders College campus in Buccleuch Road will be reconfigured to accommodate a science, technology, engineering and mathematics hub offering training for seeking employment in construction or renewables.
The bill for that work is expected to come to about £1.2m, bringing the amount of investment lined up for Hawick to £1.8m-plus, accounting for almost a quarter of the partnership’s spending spree.
College chief executive officer Angela Cox said: “I am delighted that the partnership recognises the importance of skills in supporting our businesses to improve productivity.
“This project gives us a platform to transform how we provide learning opportunities for everyone within the Borders.”
The multi-million-pound funding package announced for the Borders yesterday by Scottish Government rural secretary Fergus Ewing has been welcomed by councillors here.
Mid Berwickshire councillor Mark Rowley, the council’s executive member for business and economic development, said: “The partnership was only formed earlier this year, so the speed with which this significant funding announcement has come about bodes extremely well for the south of Scotland enterprise agency in the longer term.
“This is an exciting announcement that will support projects across the south of Scotland and the Borders, and I’m delighted that Scottish Borders Council has been working with our South of Scotland Economic Partnership colleagues to deliver these initiatives quickly.
“The Borders textiles and knitwear industries are exceptional, often with world-renowned reputations.
“Creating a dedicated centre of excellence in the iconic setting of Hawick demonstrates a commitment to provide industry-specific training to enable our outstanding textile firms to link with skilled young people to take up the opportunities that are available.
“This is a great way to support the sector and builds on the international reputation of the Borders for textiles, exemplified by the reputation of the great brands and institutions like Heriot-Watt University’s campus in Galashiels.
“Access to learning is a critical issue across the Borders, so starting to deliver a real opportunity for young people to study and learn locally, particularly in skills that are needed here, either in growing business sectors or hard-to-recruit areas, is absolutely vital to the future of the south of Scotland.
“This is a great first step in getting real access to learning out to our dispersed communities.”
Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall agrees, saying: “This is just fantastic news for Hawick.
“I’m thrilled that we are to receive financial assistance to create such a facility in the home of knitwear and textiles.
“Our knitwear industry is home to a very highly-skilled workforce producing outstanding products for world-famous fashion houses, but workforces do retire and technology is changing all the time.
“Therefore it is equally important to keep up with such changes, and now we have a real opportunity to develop our skills within this sector, and this, in turn, will, I’m sure, future proof the industry within our town.”
Hawick and Hermitage councillor Watson McAteer said: “This is really good news for the Borders, and I am delighted that the new centre of excellence in textiles will be based in Hawick, the home of textiles.
“This creates a real opportunity for our established world-class knitwear industry to maintain a flow of a highly-skilled and well-trained workforce.
“The Borders’ share of the skills and learning network is also very welcome and creates a real opportunity to grow the wealth of our residents, create new jobs and improve quality of life.
“While the devil is, of course, in the detail and I know renewables is an emotive issue in the Borders, the overall message is that this is fantastic news for Hawick and the Borders.
“I am delighted to hear that over £1m is to be invested in the Borders College campus in Hawick.
“The investment in construction skills and training has a very real potential for increasing job opportunities for our young people.
“This type of investment is exactly what Hawick needs and helps resolve the problem of youngsters who have no wish to follow a university career and want to remain living and working in their home town or community.”
Fellow Hawick and Hermitage councillor George Turnbull added: “It’s absolutely fantastic news that the Hawick is going to benefit from the first of hopefully many significant amounts of investment to help regenerate the economy of the Borders.
“The new South of Scotland Economic Partnership is certainly getting off to a great start in addressing major issues of training skills over several sectors, and I am particularly excited about the new textiles training centre, which should go a long way to ease the pressure for the knitwear sector to be able to recruit individuals skilled and ready to be involved in our high-quality textile sector.
“£610.000 over two years will go a long way to address the industry’s critical skills issue, and I am confident that it will deliver the appropriate training skills required by our local textile companies.
“I am looking forward to further important news as the partnership, alongside the Borderlands inclusive growth deal, develops other major projects to deliver a real injection into our economy to create greater opportunities for our businesses to grow to their full potential and create more employment throughout the Borders.”
Funding of almost £221,000 is also being set aside to pay for seven community projects intended to be money-spinners for their host towns and villages, three of them being in the Borders – at Peebles, Newlands and Tweedsmuir.
“The initiative to trial funding for community development support in Peebles, Newlands and Tweedsmuir will be welcomed by many communities,” added Mr Rowley.
“This is us giving communities the resources to deliver for themselves.”
“Too often, communities have great vision, drive and enthusiasm but often lack the practical support to deliver their dreams.
“This model could see community-supported schemes become much more practical to deliver across the Borders and see much closer engagement between communities, founders and private-sector and public agencies.”
Mr Ewing, MSP for Inverness and Nairn, said: “This is a clear statement of the Scottish Government’s intent to grow and regenerate the economy in the south of Scotland.”
“Earlier this year, we brought together experts from the public and private sectors to create a new, dedicated partnership, in advance of the new enterprise agency, to drive forward that regeneration.
“The partnership has now identified four projects that are sure to bring long-term social and economic benefits to the area. Of course, these are major projects which will take time to be worked up and delivered.
“It’s great to see the South of Scotland Economic Partnership injecting fresh impetus into the area’s economy.
“I’m certain that, with the dedicated focus and expertise it provides, backed up by significant levels of Scottish Government funding, we will see a tangible strengthening of the economic environment in one of Scotland’s most important regions.”
Partnership chairman Russel Griggs added: “This funding announcement is exciting news and confirms our ambition and commitment to make the south the thriving economy we know it can be.
“There is a huge amount of work under way in the partnership to support and develop projects which will deliver long-term social and economic benefits. We will make further funding announcements shortly.
“Our recent engagement exercise, with 26 events and over 500 people attending, gave a valuable insight into what we require to do.
“Better opportunities for training and supporting communities were key priorities. The announcement of funding today demonstrates our commitment to address these priorities immediately.”