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  1. ITV Report

Could south of Scotland be 'one of the most vibrant rural economies in Europe'?

The event. Credit: ITV Border

The south of Scotland could become "one of the most vibrant rural economies in Europe", according to officials behind the area's new enterprise agency.

In 2018 the Scottish Government introduced a bill for the creation of 'South of Scotland Enterprise', which will be tasked with turning around the struggling economy in Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders.

The agency is still being set up, and is being scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament's Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.

This week, the committee visited Dumfries to question officials including Professor Russel Griggs, the chairman of the South of Scotland Economic Partnership, and to engage with local people, businesses and the third sector.

In her opening address, the leader of Dumfries and Galloway Council said they did not want "handouts", and were "ambitious to transform the south of Scotland into one of the most vibrant rural economies in Europe."

An informal session took place before the committee meeting, during which local people raised a series of concerns about why the area's economy is currently struggling.

Some of the key points were:

  • Transport infrastructure - better roads and bus/train links
  • Digital connectivity - better and wider access to quick broadband speeds
  • More support and advice for businesses and start-ups
  • Support to attract and retain young workers, who generally leave the area

The South Scotland Labour MSP Colin Smyth said the message from the event was that the agency must be "locally accountable".

The Sales Director of Alpha Solway, which manufacturers protective clothing and equipment for workers, said support available at the moment was well meaning, but needs to be improved.

The current support we have through local authorities and through Scottish Enterprise is definitely well meaning, but there's never enough. I think having people on hand who understand the geography of the area, the economy of the area, will make a fundamental difference to enabling us to access the right level of support as we move forwards."

– Steven Binnie, Sales Director, Alpha Solway

If it is to succeed, the agency will also need considerable funding.

When South Scotland SNP MSP Joan McAlpine asked if the agency would have the same per capita funding as the equivalent enterprise group in the Highlands and Islands, she was assured that this would be the case.

According to the Financial Memorandum for the South of Scotland Enterprise Bill, this could mean an estimated funding allocation of £42m in 2022/23.

However, people and businesses across the south of Scotland will need to wait a while longer before they find out exactly how much the agency will receive, and how this money will be used.