A Hawick councillor fears the town could lose out on the potential benefits of the much-heralded Borderlands deal.
In last week’s UK government Budget the chancellor Philip Hammond pledged his commitment to begin detailed negotiations on how to give the economies of five cross-border local authorities a boost.
The Borderlands initiative brings together Scottish Borders Council, Carlisle City Council, Cumbria County Council, Dumfies and Galloway Council and Northumberland County Council to promote economic growth and competitiveness on the Scotland-England border.
But despite the apparently positive progress, Councillor Davie Paterson, independent for Hawick and Hermitage, believes the area he represents will see little benefit from the initiative.
It’s not a view shared by fellow ward independent councillor Watson McAteer, who predicts the deal will add to the impetus for an extension of the Borders Railway to Hawick and Carlisle.
The detail of the partners’ proposals to the UK and Scottish governments is confidential and further information has not yet been released.
Mr Paterson believes the ‘devil is in the detail’ and has called on Scottish Borders Council leader Shona Haslam to share some of the specifics of the plans, while fearing there is going to be “virtually nothing for anywhere south of Tweedbank” and “a power grab by the Central Borders”.
He said: “We can all remember when the Scottish Cabinet met in Hawick in 2013 when the idea of a Borderlands Initiative was first mooted to try and help the people of the Borders that would not necessarily benefit from the Edinburgh City Deal.
“I heard in the Budget from the chancellor that there was going to be growth with the Borderlands Initiative but no mention of where the growth was going to be.
“The Tory council leader has obviously seen all the documentation, if so could she please say in any of the draft documentation where the growth was going to be south of Tweedbank.
“I don’t think that there is anything of any substance being planned for Hawick or Newcastleton I am certain that the people of Hawick and Newcastleton would love to know.
“I have always said that some areas that I represent will not see any economic benefit from the Edinburgh City Deal and that money should be made available for the rural areas like Selkirk, Hawick or Newcastleton. When I read about investing in hubs will this mean that Central Borders? Will these benefits be at the cost of all other areas in the Borders.””
Mr Paterson’s view is the polar opposite of Mr McAteer, who said: “I am absolutely delighted to see the Borderlands initiative raised during the chancellor’s Budget speech. This gives the green light for significant cross border collaboration that will develop and grow our economic base. I believe this will also provide the much needed impetus for the extension of the Borders Railway to Hawick and on to Carlisle.”
Councillor Haslam has warmly welcomed the announcement, saying it will bring “sustainable economic growth”, adding: “The announcement is an important next step towards achieving potentially significant funding for the region.
“For the Scottish Borders, the Borderlands Initiative, the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal and the development of the South of Scotland Enterprise Agency can all help to support and drive inclusive growth, investment and improved infrastructure.”
The Borderlands Initiative is focusing on several key themes, including: digital technology; innovation; low carbon; and energy. The approach is based on existing physical and infrastructure connections, and transport and connectivity are at the heart of the partners’ proposals, linking the opportunities that can be created and informing future projects.
Clair Ramage, SNP for Hawick and Denholm, said she was “heartened” by the development, saying: “I am heartened to see that yet again the Conservatives can recognise a good initiative when they see it.
“Alex Salmond, in 2013, recognised that the Borders were being marginalised by the Westminster Government and many of the concerns were cross Border issues for example, tourism, farming and rurality.
“As an SNP initiative it is great to see an intergovernmental initiative working to the betterment of Borderers on both sides.
“Chancellor Philip Hammond’s budget announcement on the Borderlands Growth Deal is still at an early stage and I hope that there will be a firm commitment announced soon.”
Similarly satisfied was Councillor George Turnbull for Hawick and Hermitage, who added: “This should have a huge impact for the joint councils on both sides of the Borders to enhance and develop the infrastructure and especially extending the railway through from Tweedbank onto Carlisle via Newcastleton.
“Improved connectivity to help businesses and householders alike. Here’s hoping all concerned work together and make the most of what can and needs to be achieved.”