Borders MPs and MSPs are urging UK Government Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond to include progress on the Borderlands growth deal promised earlier this year in his autumn budget next week.
They are also calling for a repeat of last year’s freeze on whisky duty to give the new distilleries opening in the region at Hawick and Camptown a helping hand.
Putting together a Borderlands growth deal was one of the Conservatives’ general election manifesto pledges earlier this year, and councils and politicians on both side of the border are now demanding that funding be agreed to enable it to become a reality.
Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale MP David Mundell brought together Borders MP John Lamont, Borders MSP Rachael Hamilton, South Scotland Conservative list MSP Michelle Ballantyne and Scottish Borders Council leader Shona Haslam for a meeting in Peebles to discuss the proposals and how to put them into practice.
Mr Mundell, as Scottish Secretary, was one of the driving forces behind getting a commitment to a Borderlands growth deal included in the Conservatives’ manifesto for June’s general election, and he says plans are progressing well.
“With proposals now coming forward from the councils involved, we have a real opportunity to deliver a huge economic boost for the Borders in terms of infrastructure and strengthening our links to our neighbours across the border,” he said.
“Plans for a deal like this will take some time to come to fruition, but I am hoping that the Chancellor can reaffirm his support in the upcoming budget to continue to drive plans forward.
“Delivering this deal is an absolute priority for me as a Borders MP.”
Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP John Lamont said: “The Borderlands growth deal is a really exciting opportunity to promote tourism and improve digital and transport infrastructure in the Scottish Borders.
“In terms of geographical spread, this is the most ambitious growth deal in the UK, which, uniquely, covers both England and Scotland.
“It is right that we take some time to get this right, but I expect to see some more detailed proposals emerge early next year.
“In this month’s budget, I’ll be looking for the Chancellor to make sure that the Borderlands growth deal is supported.”
Ms Haslam added: “Scottish Borders Council has identified the Borderlands growth deal as a priority for the region over the next few years, and we stand ready to work with the UK and Scottish governments to maximise its potential.
“The Borderlands deal has the potential to be a great economic boost for the region.
“The fine details of any deal are still a work in progress, but it remains a top priority for the council administration to help boost the local economy through the Borderlands, which I hope will see support in the upcoming budget.”
The Borders Tories also want to see a freeze in spirit duty in the budget next Wednesday, November 22.
Speaking after being given a guided tour of the forthcoming Borders Distillery in Hawick, the first such enterprise of any size in the region since 1837, by Three Stills Company director John Fordyce, Mr Lamont said: “Now we have a Scotch whisky distillery in the Borders, with more on their way, I want to see better support for the industry.
“Spirit duty is a significant factor for emerging distilleries, and a freeze would help new distilleries in the Borders get up and running.
“Past experience has shown that a freeze actually increases revenues for the very fact that it boosts growth in the industry.
“I have spoken to the Chancellor directly about this and would urge him to raise the spirits of Borders Distillery and others by freezing spirit duty in his budget this month.”
Beatrice Morrice, head of public affairs for the Scotch Whisky Association, added: “The second budget of 2017 is a second chance for the Chancellor to introduce greater tax fairness for the Scotch whisky industry.
“The tax burden on the average priced bottle of Scotch whisky stands at 80%.
“That high level of duty is especially punitive for new entrants to the industry, like the Borders Distillery, that look to build a strong base in the UK market, the fourth largest market for Scotch whisky in the world.
“By backing the industry in the budget, the UK Government would boost Scotch whisky producers in the Borders and right across Scotland.”