The Borders are badly in need of a boost, writes Iain Burke
THERE is a palpable excitement in the Borders about the re-opening of our railway in early September. As a lawyer working in the Borders, I fully appreciate how much this means to individuals and to businesses. We expect the railway to deliver tangible benefits for the communities that, for far too long, have had to deal with the consequences of the swingeing Beeching railway cuts of the 1960s.
And I am certain that it will encourage more businesses from outside the region to set up profitable operations in the Borders.
Many more people will be making the journey down by train to explore what is undoubtedly one of Scotland’s most enchanting regions. I can assure you, you will get a warm welcome.
A recent seminar, held by Borders Employment Law, proved to be an eye-opener for many of the visitors who made the trek from Edinburgh and Fife
They were impressed by the seminar’s venue, the new visitor centre at Sir Walter Scott’s home at Abbotsford, which is a wonderful setting for conferences and events. However, last week’s news of the closure of the historic mill in Peebles, owned by Moorbrook Textiles, the makers of Replin Fabrics and the Robert Noble brand, is a harsh reminder of the fragility and precarious nature of the economy.
Every closure in the Borders has a disproportionate impact on the rural economy because there are not always immediate opportunities to find fresh employment.
I have seen the personal consequences of redundancy, often advising and supporting people who face uncertain futures.
It also means that vital skills, often part of the Borders way of life, are lost.
As a result, the Borders needs continuing business investment and support.
The government agencies do an admirable job, but more always needs to be done.
The region has an incredibly loyal workforce of skilled and hard-working people.
Enterprise is in our blood and we need to ensure there are decent and sustainable opportunities for young people to stay in the area, raise their families, and have the ability to enjoy what can be a wonderful way of life.
For too long, there has been an underlying issue about the low levels of pay in certain seasonal sectors, including in the textile and tourism industries. There is increasing legislation on the implementation of the Living Wage and this should be applauded.
However, it is likely to have a serious impact on many businesses in the Borders.
My hope is that the economic benefits of the railway (and if London can have a massive CrossRail investment, why can’t the line be reinstated right through to Carlisle?) will give the Borders a fresh opportunity to use its position to push itself up the pay-scale league. We must keep aiming for a more highly-skilled labour market, earning much better wages in successful companies that continue to make things and sell services outwith the Borders area.
And here there is an emerging opportunity. Edinburgh remains a hotspot for the Scottish economy and its success with new technology companies is well documented. Companies, such as Skyscanner, Fan Duel, Craneware and many others are making the headlines. The Borders can provide back-up and satellite support for the Capital’s emerging firms.
The cost of housing is still far less than in the Capital, although the cost of living in some rural communities, which don’t have a major supermarket close by, can be much steeper.
On the employment front, it is local people who know the landscape best. If the Borders are to thrive, they also need to maintain the professional infrastructure of accountants, doctors, surveyors and, dare I say, lawyers. You should not have to go to Edinburgh or Glasgow to get contracts of employment or work-related legal matters to be sanctioned, agreed and approved. It is far better value to keep this local. That’s why I’m rooted here and that means a commitment to the Borders community. With the new railway, we will be on the right track.
• Iain Burke is director of Borders Employment Law, in Galashiels, and the law firm Bannerman Burke, members of United Employment Lawyers network, with more than 35 firms across Scotland. www.unitedemploymentlawyers.co.uk