‘Talking shop’ claim aimed at group

THE Hawick Development Group has been branded nothing more than a “talking shop”.

And Councillor Ron Smith believes it requires a budget of at least £100,000 to have any major impact in the town.

The group, which meets once every two months, was set up following the demise of Pringle in a desperate bid to attract industry and boost the town’s beleaguered economy.

But several years after its creation, a number of the town’s councillors are becoming disillusioned with the lack of progress it has made.

And Councillor Smith believes a fundamental problem is the lack of funding.

He said: “We need significant money to be able to make changes – in infrastructure, in training, in retail performance. A sum of £100,000 would be a start.

“Until that time, we can only talk about what might be helpful, and encourage council officers to speed up initiatives which might be feasible within the existing council budget.”

It is understood concerns have been raised over the lack of attendance of key members, namely its chairman, leader of the council, Councillor David Parker and joint depute leader (finance) Councillor Neil Calvert.

The group, which is the only one of its kind in the Borders, includes leading officials from the local authority and gives the town’s councillors the chance to quiz them on specific developments on a more intimate basis.

But long-term critic Councillor Davie Paterson said: “It is just a talking shop. It was my understanding that when we got this group set up it was going to have teeth and actually be able deal with the very real problems that still exist in Hawick.”

While group vice-chairman Councillor Stuart Marshall added: “It’s important that given the amount of issues our town is facing at the moment that as a group we focus on these and at the same time start to tackle them.”

However, Councillor Parker defended the group and said it was instrumental in the Sainsbury’s development in Commercial Road as well as helping to support businesses and companies in the town.

He said: “Much of the group’s work involves SBC’s economic development staff working with companies directly and we have provided support for existing businesses which are developing or looking to make improvements.”