The creation of a new South of Scotland enterprise agency has been given full support by the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.
The findings come in a Stage 1 report on the South of Scotland Enterprise Bill. The Committee has been considering the Bill, which aims to establish a dedicated enterprise agency specifically for the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway.
Convener of the Committee, Edward Mountain MSP said: “The Committee fully supports the creation of a new enterprise agency for the South of Scotland and is in no doubt that it is required for the region. As part of our scrutiny, the Committee visited Dumfries and Galashiels, where we heard directly from the people who live and work in the region. It was clear to us there is overwhelming support for this Bill.
“The South of Scotland faces a significant number of economic, social and geographic challenges which differ from the rest of Scotland. The evidence we received strongly suggests that these are not being sufficiently addressed by existing support mechanisms. The Committee therefore agrees that the new agency is required to help support the enterprise and skills needs of the area and to encourage economic growth.”
Findings of the report include:
• The Committee is satisfied with the proposal that the new enterprise agency should cover Dumfries and Galloway and Scottish Borders council areas only.
• The Committee is of the view that the aims of the new agency set out in the Bill should be supplemented to include matters such as encouraging the development of a sustainable economy; supporting the enhancement of transport networks and digital connectivity; supporting community land ownership and assets ownership; and encouraging the sustainable use of the environment.
• The Committee calls on the Scottish Government to confirm that the Bill provides for the new agency to have enough flexibility to allow it to operate outwith its geographical boundaries and to collaborate with other enterprise agencies in order to fulfil its role.
• The Committee is clear that the creation of a new South of Scotland Enterprise Agency should enhance the current support landscape rather than adversely impact on any existing provision.
• The Committee is in no doubt of the importance of getting the board membership right and ensuring that it is made up of individuals with as wide a range of interests, skills, expertise and experience relevant to the south of Scotland as is possible.
• The Committee also calls for the Bill to include measures to increase local accountability of the new agency, by ensuring that it carries out work to obtain feedback on its performance and effectiveness from communities and other stakeholders.
The Committee’s scrutiny process identified a number of challenges facing the economy of the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway council areas. These included an ageing population and young people leaving the area, relatively low levels of productivity and GDP growth, transport and digital connectivity issues, and higher concentrations of low-paying jobs. However, there were also strengths, including strong community spirit, good strategic location, and a natural environment that provides a high quality of life, a good place to raise a family and plenty opportunities for healthy living.