CALLS for the Scottish Government to make Hawick a special case and arrest the economic decline of the region’s largest single settlement have been answered in the affirmative this week.

It came on Monday when South of Scotland SNP MSP Paul Wheelhouse confirmed the award of a £3.625m package of support for Scottish Borders Council to encourage new business start-ups and retain growing businesses in the town.

The cash – which must be committed in the current financial year - will come from the £10m Local Economic Development Fund announced earlier this month by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in her Programme for Government statement.

Mr Wheelhouse, in his role as business, innovation and energy minister, said the new resources would deliver on themes outlined in the Hawick Action Plan – a prospectus for urban regeneration endorsed by the council in July.

“The resources will deliver projects that are key to revitalising Hawick, making it a great place in which to live, work and invest,” said Mr Wheelhouse.

“They will help develop business accommodation and an enterprise centre which will match future business needs, retaining growing companies in the town and encouraging enterprise to start and grow.”

Councillor Stuart Bell, SBC’s executive member for economic development, said he hoped the cash would encourage the private sector and community of Hawick to rally behind the action plan.

“The plan has a wide range of elements and seeks to revitalise the town centre but this cannot be delivered by the public sector alone,” he said.

“Developing business accommodation and an enterprise centre are just two small parts of the action plan and there is much that can be done locally by businesses and community groups, particularly in improving the tourism offer in the town and attracting more visitors to this historic part of the Borders.”

Mr Bell said he expected a report on how the money would be spent before March 31 next year to come to a meeting of SBC’s executive in November.

The action plan for Hawick is based on issues identified at a business breakfast, which was hosted by Mr Wheelhouse’s ministerial predecessor Fergus Ewing in the town in February .

The meeting was organised in the aftermath of the closure, with the loss of 180 jobs, of Hawick Knitwear.

The plan seeks to address a myriad of economic ills – a 26 per cent fall in High Street footfall over the last six years; a large number of empty retail and industrial properties; a lack of employment opportunities; the need for more skilled local workforce; the exodus of school leavers; and the lack of hotel accommodation.

When the document was approved in July, Councillor Watson McAteer (Ind, Hawick & Denholm) observed: “We need profound help in terms of resources and I hope we get it soon.”

On Monday following Mr Wheelhouse’s announcement, Mr McAteer said the news was “a welcome shot in the arm” for the town.

“It’s important that the money is used to deliver what is says on the tin.
“That is supporting existing businesses and creating new employment opportunities,” he added.

Also welcoming the announcement was fellow ward councillor Stuart Marshall.
“This is undoubtedly a boost, but we must never lose sight that there are still a lot of hurdles to overcome if we are serious about tackling the many issues facing the town,” he told the Border Telegraph.

“I am pleased the council has acknowledged that all six Hawick councillors have a key role to play in how the cash can be used to maximise the benefit to Hawick and its people.”

Other projects benefiting from the Local Economic Development Fund are based in Longannet, Clackmannanshire (£2m), Kincardine-on-Forth in Fife (£2.7m) and Irvine in Ayrshire (£1.675m).