Business Minister Fergus Ewing has this week hailed the “resilience and spirt” among Hawick’s business community.
The SNP Cabinet member was speaking after Tuesday morning’s high-powered meeting in Tower Mill – called in the wake of Hawick Knitwear going into administration last month with the loss of 180 jobs – and which focused on business opportunities in and around Hawick.
The meeting threw up many interesting ideas aimed at stimulating the local econcomy, such as MSP John Lamont’s proposal to set up an Enterprise Zone in the town, and MSP Paul Wheelhouse’s suggestion that the Scottish Borders could be redesignated as part of a new South Scotland area for European funding purposes.
Mr Ewing commented: “Today was about listening to local businesses to see what we could do, in practical terms, to help make a difference in light of the redundancies at Hawick Knitwear.
“I was immensely encouraged. There is a great resilience, spirit and self-help here and I think that will help create more businesses and jobs.”
The 60-strong delegation – among whom were a good number of attendees from the town’s business sector, as well as local parliamentarians, town councillors and Scottish Borders Council officials, and representatives from Scottish Enterprise, Skills Development Scotland and Borders College – were split into workshop groups: knitwear and textiles; economic infrastructure; and new opportunities.
And the key themes that emerged from the event were the urgent need to boost broadband and mobile coverage to support town and rural-based businesses; to continue the push for the extension of the railway to Hawick and on to Carlisle, with freight capability; and to develop the tourist industry, including hotel provision.
The meeting also heard calls for improvements to be made to the roads network; a survey of empty mill buildings to be carried out with a view to subdividing them into ‘incubator units’ for start-up companies; and for more help to be given to newly-established businesses.
Outling his vision for an Enterprise Zone in the town, Mr Lamont explained: “By offering incentives like business rates relief, super-fast broadband and skills and training support, businesses would be encouraged to return to and invest in the town.”
Mr Wheelhouse’s proposal to redesignate the Borders as part of a new South of Scotland area for Euro funding would, he claimed “increase the range of grants available to Borders businesses and communities to invest in a more sustainable economic future”.
Speaking to the Hawick News on Tuesday afternoon, local councillors talked positively about the meeting, with George Turnbull saying “everyone concerned certainly showed an appetite to take on all the challenges”.
Watson McAteer highlighted the “excellent interaction” and “great suggestions” to help develop the town, while Ron Smith asserted that the minister would be left in no doubt as to the demands of local businesses.
Stuart Marshall said the feedback from the workshops clearly identified actions that would develop and benefit Hawick, and he was encouraged to see Mr Ewing take an active role in helping the town progress.
Among the attendees from the local business community was Think Fitness gym co-owner Greg Dalgleish who said he was happy to be involved in the discussions but cautioned that the discussions need to move into action. He added: “Issues such as communication and transport aren’t going to be fixed overnight, so what is the council going to do short-term?”
Robin Deas, managing director at sock makers House of Cheviot, said: “It was a very positive meeting and the minister, MSPs and MP were very proactive. We now need a response from this and I want to see some action.”
Derick Tait, the chairman of Future Hawick, the town’s regeneration body, said there is a willingness in the local business community to take things forward.
Alluding to a follow-up meeting Mr Ewing added: “We will study the detail and we will be back to further develop the proposals.”
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