Support scheme for independent businesses

Duns Industrial Estate
Duns Industrial Estate

ALTHOUGH we’re still in somewhat gloomy economic times, Berwickshire’s industrial estates are full of small businesses who are still enjoying a good trade.

There are five industrial estates dotted around the region at Chirnside, Coldstream, Duns, Eyemouth and Greenlaw and they are home to a wide variety of companies, with Farne Salmon at Duns, Ahlstrom at Chirnside, Universal Fibre Optics at Coldstream and Eyemouth Freezers among the biggest in the Borders.

Life still isn’t easy for Berwickshire’s independent retailers but over the past year they have benefited from substantial assistance from Scottish Borders Council who say they are keen for this support to continue going into the new financial year.

Richard Sweetnam, SBC’s Economic Development Manager, commented: “Last year’s Scottish Borders Business Funding scheme was largely pitched at micro businesses to assist them with projects to move their company forward.

“Businesses were invited to apply for up to a maximum of 50 per cent of project costs up to a total of £4,000 so we had bids from companies wanting to develop their branding and websites amongst other things.

“There was a significant amount of interest in the fund and we certainly supported a huge amount of projects. In economic terms it is probably still too early to say what benefits this support has had for the businesses but it certainly was a step in the right direction.”

And as well as businesses like the ones in Berwickshire’s industrial estates helping to develop themselves, Richard said they were also helping make the Borders an attractive place for companies outside of the region who were looking for new locations for premises.

He continued: “In broad terms we manage all industrial and commercial premises in the Borders as well as tenants, the turn over of tenants and tenant issues.

“We also actively market all sites and promote them to all inward investment enquiries.

“There’s always enquiries from companies outside the region and the occupancy levels of all our stock are good.

“This reflects the diversity of the businesses we’ve got, the quality of the premises we’ve got and the demand for them.

“There is ongoing interest from companies and the Scottish Borders offers competitively priced business accommodation and our rental values are significantly better than those for industrial estates in the Central Belt and the north of England.

“Businesses are recognising the potential the Borders has for allowing them to expand.”

Richard said that sometimes the Planning and Economic Development team get enquiries from companies who want to move to a site in the Borders as soon as possible and with this in mind Scottish Borders Council is in the process of developing a new scheme which will allow land to become more readily available to prospective investors.

“We are currently in the middle of developing a project whereby we would acquire sites throughout the Borders so when the market places pick up a bit we can release these sites to businesses, thus lowering the risk to developers.

“We’ve submitted planning applications and had them accepted for numerous sites in the region including ones at Coldstream, Duns and Hawick.

“People tend to think that there is always plenty of land available but if you dig deeper this isn’t always the case so it’s important for us to secure this land while we can.”

Richard said that while a lot of the business funding from the council isn’t always specific to Berwickshire’s industrial estates, they and the area’s industry in general had benefited.

“Berwickshire has definitely benefited, there’s no doubt about it.

“Another way in which we are attempting to boost trade throughout the Borders on industrial estates and the high street is the shop front scheme, and plenty of businesses from Berwickshire have applied for this.

“Scottish Borders Council would like to extend its commitment to industry over the next financial year, but as yet the specifics have yet to be set.

“One of the ways we’d like to continue our relationship with traders is a mentoring support scheme for independent businesses.

“It’s unusual for a public sector to get as involved as we are but if our high streets and industrial estates are thriving then more people will want to come back to the Borders.”