Text of letter sent by SBCC Director to Southern Reporter


I cannot share Mr Walsmley’s enthusiasm over the nine new Special Landscape Areas in the region – and I, too, having been in tourism for all my working life, “genuinely care about the countryside”. I also care for the wellbeing of the local people whose future is inescapably linked to the economy of the region. I feel obliged to remind him and his conservation group that the Borders economy is in deep recession and was long before the sub-prime mortgage scandal. In fact it has been on the decline for probably 20 years or more. It is not long since the Salvation Army were handing out food parcels in Hawick, we still have a cloud hanging over the Barrie’s jobs and still have the lowest average wage in the country.

The creation of more “Conservation Areas” at a time like this is unwise to say the least and probably a poor use of resources given our economic problems. To heap even more rules, regulations and petty bureaucracy on the shoulders of those wishing to create businesses, develop businesses or simply diversify businesses in order to create jobs is only helpful to those who do not wish to see any rural development or at least wish to discourage it. I, for one, cannot applaud that. Mr Walmsley states that SIAs will “ensure a legacy we leave our children….one that will encourage them to live and work in, and visit, this special part of of world” – they might visit but as for encouraging people of working age to move, stay or bring up families here, these “conservation” ideals will not do so. Our youngsters will move out and head for the cities for work and the Borders will be so much the poorer for their having done so.

Yours faithfully

Bruce Simpson

Alyn Smith MEP newsletter

Alyn Smith MEP will be the guest speaker at an SBCC event for the Borders agricultural and farming community in Kelso in November. Read his latest newsletter here

Call to former directors of SBCC

SBCC wants to create an association of former directors who have skills and expertise in various sectors. If you are a former SBCC director and would like to be a part of the association, please e-mail communications@borderschamber.org.uk

Members Input Sought on Networking Events

SBCC has a networking event with Jim Mather in September and another with Alyn Smith MEP in November. See SBCC Events Section of the website for more details. We are actively seeking members’ views on other possible events especially whether members would like a regular informal networking event. Please contact communications@borderschamber.org.uk

Next SBCC Board Meeting

The next SBCC board meeting will be in the Philiphaugh Suite at Selkirk Rugby Football Club on Tuesday 21 August from 1-3pm. We are anticipating that Councilor Stuart Bell will be in attendance and welcome members’ questions for him.

Alyn Smith wants bid changes to CAP

Read about a recent initiative by MEP Alyn Smith here. Alyn Smith will be the guest speaker at a Borders Chamber networking event in November. See the SBCC Events page for more information.

New Membership Enquiries

SBCC welcomes new members. Please contact our membership secretary:

Gordon Innes, The Tontine Hotel, Peebles EH45 8AJ

T: 01721 720892  E-mail: gordon.innes@tontinehotel.com

Southern Reporter Covers SBCC AGM

The Southern Reporter’s coverage of the Scottish Borders Chamber of Commerce Annual General Meeting can be read here

Text of Convener James Aitken’s speech at SBCC AGM

Firstly I would like to thank everyone for attending the Annual General Meeting of the Scottish Borders Chamber of Commerce.  I am James Aitken and I am the Convener of the Chamber.   I will make further introductions as we go along.    The order of events this morning is fairly straightforward.  I will talk about what has been happening in the Chamber over the past year and also a few other thoughts.  You will no doubt be relieved to hear I only intend to speak for 10 minutes or so.  I will then see if anyone has any questions. I will then ask Craig Little, the Chamber’s Treasurer, to give a review of our financial situation.    I understand that Craig has brought a number of copies of our accounts for anyone who would like a copy.  Then I will ask the other Directors if they would like to give a quick update on their respective business sectors. I will then invite any final questions from the floor. We should be finished the formal part of the AGM by around 9:15.  Please stay on if you can.

So to the Chamber and the past year. The past year has seen the appointment of almost a completely new Board of Directors including myself as Convener.    One of the first things the new Board did was to undertake a complete review of how the Chamber operates.  I will come back to this in a minute or so. In addition, and more importantly in my opinion, the Board asked themselves the following question:  is there still a need for a Scottish Borders Chamber of Commerce?  After lengthy discussions over a number of months, a majority of the Board said yes.  There was though a number of caveats.  These included that we must be financially viable, we must not be reliant on external funding, we must not be just another talking shop or “boys” club.  The Board also agreed to ask itself the same question at the end of this year.  I am pleased to report that progress is being made on these issues.

Now to the day to day running of the Chamber.  Our finances are now in a much improved state.  However, to get to this position the Board, like many other businesses, has had to take some hard decisions in the past year to reduce our overheads.  That included the Board having to make a valued employee redundant.   In fact our sole employee.  This has meant an increased workload for the Directors. The Board also agreed to freeze our membership rates for this and the following year and to offer a discount for members rejoining within a month of the start of our new financial year.  As the Chamber no longer receives any external funding, and will not in fact seek further external funding, the Chamber is now almost entirely dependent on membership income.   Craig will cover our finances in more detail in a few minutes and will answer any questions you may have.

The Board has also had to deal with a number of problematic historical issues.    I am again glad to report that progress has been made on all of these historical issues and in particular the Border Works issue.   The Board discussions have also resulted in a series of changes and improvements to the way we operate.    This is of course a work in progress and a great deal still needs to be done.

One major change concerned communications and the appointment of a consultant, Harry McGrath, to deal with this vitally important task on our behalf.  Harry deals with both internal, our members, and external, the press to give an example, communications. This has included a new website which is regularly updated, regular emails to our members, a much improved twitter presence and more press releases.   The feedback we have received to date on these changes has been very positive.

Other matters which we are still working on include membership, appointment of new Directors and events. On membership we are to begin a membership drive in August.

As for Directors, a number of new Directors have already been appointed.  This is obviously an ongoing process.  I also intend to create an association of former Directors of the Chamber.  The advantages to the Chamber of keeping in touch with former Directors are obvious.

On events Jim Mather, former Scottish Government Enterprise, Energy and Tourism Minister, and Alyn Smyth a Scottish Member of the European Parliament who has a particular interest in agricultural matters, have agreed to speak at events to be held in October and November respectively.   A third winter event involving Craig Little will be announced shortly. We are also considering holding a networking event every 2 months or so.  This is something we are going to ask our members for their views on in the next week or so.

The review that the Board has undertaken would not be of much use if we only look at internal Chamber matters. A great deal of time has been spent considering our relationship with various bodies such as the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, neighbouring Chambers and other local business organisations, Scottish Borders Council and our local politicians.

Can I take this opportunity to thank Ged Cowans for his work with the Scottish Chambers on behalf of the Board.  Shortly after becoming Convener, Ged and I held a number of meetings with our neighbouring Chambers in the Lothians.  These Chambers were considering a merger and asked us if we also wanted to become part of a larger Chamber. One of the reasons why the Board unanimously rejected a merger was the amount of time taking up discussing the “City regions” policy.  I made the position of our Chamber clear.  Of course we want to work closely with our neighbouring Chambers, however, although we agree that Edinburgh is important to the Borders our links with Dumfries and Galloway and Northumberland are just as important to us. The Board’s position on this is straightforward.  The Borders needs a business organisation or even organisations whose priority is to represent the interests of the Borders business community.

Now to Scottish Borders Council and in particular its economic development department. To be clear I have not been impressed and I have made this clear to those I have dealt with.  The Chamber does not see its role to simply provide a token representative from the business community to the latest talking shop being mooted or document to sign in front of the press.   That said, it is only a few weeks since the local elections were held.   It was clear from reading the various manifestos that each party and many of those standing as independents, see the economy as a priority.  That as far as we are concerned means a fresh start. I have already had a very constructive telephone conversation with Stuart Bell, the councillor now in charge of economic development.  I am meeting Stuart again in the next week or so and he has agreed to come and speak at our August Board meeting.

I have also made it clear to Stuart that the Chamber will continue to campaign for a forum for all business organisations in the Borders.  You may be surprised to know that there are almost 50 such organisations in the Borders.   Instead of wasting time and effort trying to get these bodies to merge let’s try a different approach.   Let’s acknowledge and celebrate the fact that so many people are willing to try and help business flourish in the Borders.  I will continue to press on this.  Every politician I have met or spoken to is in favour of the idea of this forum.

That brings me nicely on to our meetings with our local politicians.  So far we have met or spoken to Michael Moore, Chic Brodie, John Lamont, Christine Grahame and a number of councillors including David Parker.  Other meetings are planned.   One interesting idea that arose from these meetings was the idea of MSPs holding surgeries specifically for businesses.   Another was arranging a meeting of all the South of Scotland Chambers.

A couple of final points. Let’s not forget that there are many great things going on in the Borders just now.  Eyemouth Harbour can now receive cruise ships, our first crematorium is now in operation, a second is almost complete, the Borders Book Festival, the Border Union Show, the new 3G Arena in Gala, mountain biking at Glentress, our common ridings.  I could go on and on.   Then there is the return of our railway that should never have been taken away in the first place.  This is a fantastic opportunity for the business community in the Borders.  Let’s ensure that we fully realise its potential.   That includes making sure that Twedbank is not the final stop on this line.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my fellow Directors, both past and present, for their continued support and all their hard work over the past year.  Our Directors do not even claim expenses.  In particular I would like to thank Fiona Drane, my predecessor as Convener, and Sally Scott-Aiton our former employee, for all the time and effort they put in to the Chamber. I would also like to thank Gordon and Kate for accommodating us today. Lastly, and by no means least, I would like to thank our members for their continued support.

Campaign for Borders Rail Press Release


The Campaign for Borders Rail (CBR) today launched “Great Ideas and Initiatives for the Borders Railway, 2012” on their website (www,campaignforbordersrail.org)

The booklet is packed with up-to-date examples of imaginative schemes already run successfully by Community Rail Partnerships (CRP) across the UK. CRP`s respond to the needs of local rail users and visitors, make their railways more profitable, and enable local businesses and agencies across the region to benefit.

Drawing on many of these proven schemes, the booklet will show how in Midlothian and Borders:

  • Local businesses, schools and colleges can benefit;
  • Tourist agencies and outdoor businesses can liase with the railway to promote walking, cycling, historic attractions and festivals;
  • Local food and drink companies can promote their wares on trains and at stations:
  • Everything from community allotments and advice centres to restaurants, cycle hire and children`s play areas can be set up successfully at stations.

Local business organisations such as the Borders Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses and tourist organisations such as the Trimontium Trust are Members of CBR and are aware of the opportunities and benefits a Community Rail Partnership could bring to Midlothian and the Borders. Other facilities that already exist adjacent to planned stations, such as the Scottish Mining Museum at Newtongrange, can also be expected to reap considerable benefits from an active and supportive CRP.

CBR Chair Lorne Anton said : “We very much hope that the main agencies, local businesses, community organisations and the people of Midlothian and the Borders will want to set up a Community Rail Partnership – to create real local ownership, increase usage of the line and generate valuable income.  But we can`t just expect them to sign up without considering what the advantages will be. We hope our booklet will give people time to do that over the Summer, and build enthusiasm for getting together to plan a Community Rail Partnership.”

The booklet also contains hard evidence to counter critics who question the likely economic success of the Borders Railway. It demonstrates how successful a wide range of re-opened and rural lines throughout the British Isles have proved – with some achieving 80-90% passenger growth over the last three years.

CBR will also be distributing hard copies of the booklet to key agencies and individuals in the near future.

For more information on the Campaign for Borders Rail or to view “Great Ideas and Initiatives for the Borders Railway, 2012” please visit the website at

www.campaignforbordersrail.org  or contact the CBR Chair at lorneanton@yahoo.co.uk

or Sarah Nelson, CBR Member and author of the booklet on 07800 662632.