As we read in the Hawick News last week, the Scottish Courts Service and Scottish Borders Council are joint sponsors of a ‘closed door’ feasibility study looking into the provision of integrated justice services for Scottish Borders.
What I would add is that the study has so far identified four potential options. The first to do nothing is redundant from the start with Peebles and Duns courts closing in January 2015. The second is the creation of a justice centre or centres and interestingly the language used to describe that option has in my view a distinctly positive bias. The third is described as a hub and spoke model, and the fourth is more concerned with embracing new or developing technology to deliver an IT solution.
The result, we are told, will be a report containing recommendations and a full business case ahead of any wider public consultation. Call me old-fashioned, but that approach has cart and horse written all over it and smacks of fait accompli.
All of this is vitally important for Hawick. For almost 50 years the town has provided the strategic and operational centre for policing across the entire Borders. The facilities at Wilton Hill are purpose-built and as a result of the recent Police Scotland changes, that have seen staff numbers decimated, there is capacity to expand and diversify. As a result I can think of no better location in the Borders to manage a multi-agency approach to justice.
My concern is that this is likely to be ignored with ‘justice centre’ simply interpreted by geography and transport links, such as the Borders Railway, rather than the obvious availability of facilities, resources and demand.
Governance of this study is being provided by the ‘members sounding board’, at Scottish Borders Council, chaired by the leader David Parker. Surprisingly for such an important issue, none of the existing Hawick councillors sit on that board and consequently have no ability to influence direction.
There is a great opportunity here to bring new jobs to Hawick and increase both commercial and retail business in the town. We need our elected members to get behind this and ensure a positive outcome. I would not, however, want to see a repeat of the Borders College fiasco where we finally accepted a satellite campus as a trade-off to keep us quiet.