MP calls for Borders jobs summit

THE fragility of the Borders economy is exercising the minds of local politicians - MP Michael Moore is trying to arrange a Borders job summit with the Secretary of State for Scotland and change the attitude of banks to small businesses in the region, while MSP John Lamont believes the extension of rate relief for small businesses could help them survive the economic downturn.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 17th February 2010, 10:30 am
Updated Wednesday, 17th February 2010, 10:30 am

Borders Lib Dem MP Mr Moore has written to Jim Murphy MP requesting an urgent meeting after it emerged last month that an additional 175 manufacturing jobs were at risk in the Borders as a result of a local textile firm going into administration.

The Scotland Office has hosted jobs summits in a number of areas of the country that have been hit by the recession, bringing together councils, education providers, business organisations and national agencies to discuss how to best support those that had lost their jobs as a consequence of the economic downturn. And Mr Moore believes the time has now come for such a job summit to be held in the Borders.

"A Borders employment summit would be instrumental in ensuring that Government agencies, business and education groups are working together to the same end – helping as many people as possible that lost their jobs as a result of the recession to get back to work," he said.

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In December, Mr Moore presented a petition to the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street which called for additional resources to be made available to protect jobs and support skills training schemes in the Borders.

Mr Moore said: "Although the economy made a tentative return to growth at the end of 2009, the additional redundancies that we have seen recently in our local manufacturing sector indicate just how challenging a year 2010 is likely to be for many firms in the Borders. I will ensure that the Minister recognises the urgency of this situation during our meeting."

It is Mr Moore's belief that UK banks could do more to help struggling Borders businesses by meet their lending obligations to small and medium-sized businesses.

Last week, separate reports from the Public Affairs Committee at Westminster and the Scottish Government slammed RBS and Lloyds over their failure to meet lending targets introduced as a condition of the financial support they received from the taxpayer.

Mr Moore has pressed Ministers over the problems that lack of credit has caused for small businesses repeatedly since the financial crisis began. In the Borders, a number of local manufacturing firms have run into difficulties after they were unable to secure export finance on reasonable terms.

Mr Moore has now written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, calling for action to be taken to force the banks to increase their lending to Borders firms.

Mr Moore said: "The reports from Westminster and Holyrood both make the same clear point: when it comes to credit firms in the Borders are paying more and more for less and less essential support.

"Ministers have been aware of these problems for well over a year now and action to resolve this issue is long overdue. Despite the promises of the banks, lack of credit has left many local firms facing severe financial difficulties.

"Steps must be taken urgently to ensure that the banks begin to meet their lending obligations to the taxpayer."

Roxburgh and Berwickshire's Conservative MSP John Lamont is optimistic that the Scottish Government's announcement of an extension to rates relief for small businesses, will also have a positive impact in the region.

As well as extending the threshold for payment, the Government has also agreed to close a loophole whereby business owners with more than one shop were left out of the small business bonus scheme.

Commenting on the announcement, which should see scores of small businesses in the Borders see their bills reduced and many others completely removed from paying rates, Mr Lamont said: "This is great news for small businesses in the Borders, as they work hard in the face significant economic difficulties. I am delighted that the Cabinet Secretary recognised the concerns of traders in the Borders and has taken this speedy action.

"The issue was raised during Annabel Goldie's recent visit to Hawick, it was then raised with John Swinney during the budget debate that same week, and it has now been announced as Government policy. This is a great example of swift action from the Conservatives to alleviate some of the burdens on small businesses.

"It is vital that politicians do everything possible to protect local small businesses during these difficult times."

And as he starts on the election campaign trail, as the Conservative candidate, fighting for the Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk seat currently held by Michael Moore, Mr Lamont is convinced that the Borders needs a "direct line" to Downing Street to put the case for investment in our area and to provide support for local jobs.

"That will only happen if a Conservative Government is elected at the General Election and if John Lamont is elected as MP for the Borders," say Borders Conservatives.

Following a meeting with Conservative party leader David Cameron, John Lamont said: "David Cameron is very aware of the difficulties that we've been facing in the Borders during Labour's recession. Many jobs have been lost across the region but the textiles and construction sectors have been particularly badly hit.

"There are also fears that there will be further redundancies before the economic situation improves."

"However, it is very clear that the Borders has lacked representation at the very heart of Government. Opposition MPs simply do not have access to the Government Ministers and senior civil servants in the way that MPs from the party of Government have.

"The Borders has been left on the sidelines for far too long and I was therefore pleased that David Cameron understood the importance of the Borders having a strong voice in Government."