Hawick Common Riding committee and council nearing agreement over funding dispute

A £9,300 grant withheld from Hawick Common Riding’s organisers for the past six months now looks set to be handed over in the near future.

Wednesday, 18th December 2019, 12:18 pm

That change of heart by bosses at Scottish Borders Council follows months of meetings and negotiations between the two parties in a bid to address equality issues at the annual festival.

They both now claim to have found a way forward, and the outstanding grant funding for the six-week event will be released by the local authority once an agreed set of terms is met.

A joint statement released by Hawick Common Riding committee and Scottish Borders Council last week said: “Hawick Common Riding committee and Scottish Borders Council are delighted to announce that, through ongoing and productive dialogue, a way forward has been agreed which addresses the equalities issues that have plagued Hawick Common Riding in the past.

“Following confirmation of the fulfilled requirements, the Hawick Common Riding funding will be released.

“Hawick Common Riding committee is taking a proactive stance to ensure that equalities are at the core of what it does and looks forward to welcoming everyone who would like to participate in all Hawick Common Riding events.”

An annual grant is made to all Borders towns’ common riding and festival organising committees each year, with the amount dependent on the size of the event.

Hawick’s cash was being withheld amid complaints the council received regarding alleged untoward behaviour directed at women at this year’s common riding, however.

Council officers received 29 emails of complaint from 12 people after this year’s event, most of them concerned about unpleasantness directed at female riders.

They included claims that some female participants faced discrimination and hostility at the event.

There were claims that one female official was booed and had paper and a water bottle thrown at her as she left this year’s colour-bussing ceremony; “venom” was directed at lady riders taking part in ceremonial events by people including committee members and former principals; complainers were ignored or booed, heckled, sworn at and called a “disgrace”; when the behaviour was directed at riders in the presence of committee members and marshals, no action was taken; speeches at previously male-only gatherings were addressed to “gentlemen” and ignored the presence of women; and that the common riding committee did not promote the participation of both sexes and failed to deal properly with the complaints it received.

In emails made public last month, the council’s legal officer, Nuala McKinlay, outlined those issues to the common riding committee, suggesting that it publish a “very positive statement” welcoming all women to the festival.

The Southern believes that the eight outstanding complaints detailed in those emails remain unresolved.

Last month, the common riding committee agreed to reinvent itself as a Scottish charitable incorporated organisation, meaning it will enjoy greater protection over issues such as public liability.

However, it does mean it must now comply with more national and UK-wide legislation, including equality law requirements.

Its new chairman, 1983 cornet John Hogg, said: “This is a hard-working committee, and that will not change.

“We have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but, believe me, we will make it work.”

After a controversial legal battle in 1996, women were allowed to participate in some rideouts for the first time, and last year that was extended to ceremonial events.