THE Borders town of Hawick has the weakest economic profile in rural Scotland, and current attempts to regenerate the town are woefully inadequate, according to new research.
Local councillor Andrew Farquhar claims information now emerging from the 2001 census provides conclusive proof that Hawick is in urgent need of special help from government.
The largest town in the region - it came within a whisker of losing that title to Galashiels in the latest population count - is suffering badly from an unwanted collection of depressing statistics covering population, education and employment.
There have already been hundreds of job losses in the knitwear industry, Hawick has higher rates of social exclusion than any other town in south-east Scotland, scores of public sector houses are standing empty, and there are few attractions to persuade the younger generation not to move away.
Now Mr Farquhar, the independent councillor for Wilton ward on Scottish Borders Council and a former chief inspector with Lothian and Borders Police, is using census returns to back up his argument for the involvement of regeneration experts to tackle the town’s ills, and a case for emergency status and expanded assistance.
"In Scottish terms, we have a Third World economy in Hawick, thanks to very low average wages and with little prospect of attracting higher-paid jobs," Mr Farquhar told The Scotsman.
According to the census, only 5 per cent of locals work in professional jobs, less than half the Scottish average of 11 per cent and well below the Borders figure of 9 per cent.
When it comes to so-called associate professional and technical occupations, Hawick’s 9 per cent lags behind Scotland’s 14 per cent.
"The educational profile appears to be equally appalling," said Mr Farquhar. He points to the fact that more than 45 per cent of 16-74-year-olds in Hawick have no qualifications (national figure 33 per cent), while only 9 per cent of the local population have attained highest qualification level four, a poor success rate when set alongside Scotland’s 19 per cent.
Mr Farquhar is particularly concerned at the loss of population from the town, which is weakening the economic base still further.
Between 1971 and 2001, the number of residents dropped from 17,251 to 14,573. Meanwhile, Galashiels, where a number of major projects have taken place in recent years, has grown in size and has a population of 14,361, according to the latest census.
"The Borders has one of the lowest average wages in the country, and with skilled redundant knitwear workers now working part-time in Hawick supermarkets, our pay rates are even lower than that," he said.
He was also angered by the disclosure earlier this week that enterprise money for the Borders will be significantly cut by Scottish Enterprise in 2004-5.
He said: "This comes at a time when Hawick needs a big idea to stimulate its economy. Around 11 million is being invested in various initiatives, but is that money being used on projects that will have maximum impact? That is why I believe we need regeneration experts drafted into the town before it’s too late."
A dedicated Hawick regeneration initiative was launched by various agencies in 2001. The partnership mission statement declared: "By 2010 Hawick will once again be a vibrant community with a growing population, a strong and diverse economy with highly skilled jobs, providing a range of local services which meet the needs and aspirations of all sections of the community."
Last night, Nigel Sargent, director of partnership, skills and learning at Scottish Enterprise Borders, said it remained fully committed to the regeneration of Hawick.
He said: "Area regeneration in Hawick is a long-term approach dealing with deep-seated issues. It is not a quick fix, and this is recognised by the Hawick Partnership and all participating agencies."