Council looks to EU for southern comfort

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Councillors have backed plans by the Scottish Government to help the south of Scotland win a fairer share of economic development support from the European Union.

As reported last month, Scotland is currently divided into four regions which EU statisticians use to inform funding decisions. But iniquities, in terms of economic need, exist within these areas.

Although the Borders has a gross domestic product (GDP) per head of just 18,600, it is lumped in with Edinburgh in an East of Scotland region with an average GDP of 29,900.

A similar situation exists in the Glasgow-dominated Western region, which has a per capita GDP of 23,900 while the Dumfries & Galloway figure is 18,800.

After intensive lobbying from the two southern councils, the Scottish Government is consulting on the creation of a fifth region – Southern Scotland – which will also include low GDP council areas in South Lanarkshire and Ayrshire.

“The hope is that we in the south will get a more equitable share – on a par with the Highlands and Islands – of the estimated £670m in EU structure funds which have been provisionally allocated to Scotland over the next five years,” said Councillor Stuart Bell, Scottish Borders Council’s ex.

He was commenting after SBC’s executive agreed last week to support the proposal.

The council hopes the move will help arrest the downturn of economic activity in the six recessionary years from 2008 as evidenced in the latest Scottish Annual Business Statistics.

During that time, employment in the Borders fell from 31,700 to 29,200 with manufacturing jobs down by a sixth from 6,000 to 5,000. Despite inflation, gross wages and salaries in manufacturing slumped from £111m to £106m.