COUNCIL leader David Parker has distanced himself from the hostile reaction to the region’s exclusion from 14 new enterprise zones announced at the weekend by Scottish finance secretary John Swinney.
South of Scotland list MSP Jim Hume opened the broadside, describing the Borders’ omission from areas that will benefit from reduced businesses rates and a streamlined planning system, as “absolute neglect by the Scottish Government”.
His fellow Lib Dem, Councillor Vicky Davidson, Scottish Borders Council’s executive member for economic development, described the announcement as “disappointing” and claimed it would make it harder for the region, acknowledged for its low pay and high public sector dependency, to compete for inward investment and retain existing companies.
Mr Swinney made his announcement at an Irvine pharmaceutical company that is part of the life sciences enterprise area along with sites in Moray, the Highlands, Edinburgh and Midlothian.
Each area would offer, from April, “sector-specific incentives” to encourage private investment.
A futher two zones are being created to focus on the low carbon and renewables sector: the east area including the ports of Dundee and Leith and the north area comprising Orkney, Arnish in the Western Isles and Nigg and Scrabster in the Highlands.
The final zone will cover other manufacturing and growth sector opportunities and will initially focus on Creative Clyde in Glasgow and the aerospace industry at Prestwick international airport.
Mr Swinney said the sites had been selected due to their “clear, achievable opportunities” for development in the short term. He claimed many faced challenging economic conditions.
But Mr Hume, his party’s rural affairs spokesperson at Holyrood, reacted angrily to our exclusion.
“It’s absolute neglect from the Scottish Government that the Borders has been ignored,” he blasted. “This region is crying out for this type of economic focus which would undoubtedly attract much-needed inward investment. In a low-wage area like the Borders, that means jobs.
“At a time when the jobless figures are spiralling upwards, it’s a crushing blow to the region’s employment prospects. It is obvious to me that the Scottish Government is focusing its efforts on where they get votes, rather than where people need jobs.”
Councillor Davidson said: “It is disappointing news as the potential to reduce business rates in these chosen areas will make it even harder for the Borders to compete for inward investment or even to hold on to companies needing investment to expand.
“The areas chosen are based on the type of activity already there and reflect considerable government investment in those areas and the chosen priority industries, so we were not starting from a level playing field in being considered for inclusion.
“Clearly, as only 14 sites were chosen, there are many council areas in Scotland excluded. However, if high growth industries are attracted into Scotland as a result, there may be wider spin-offs beyond these chosen areas and we will try to play into them as far as possible.”
Mr Parker expressed neither disappointment nor pessimism.
“The enterprise zones announced at the weekend are primarily centred around well recognised areas of priority business development and the type of companies who will locate there or expand there would probably not have been considering the Borders anyway,” said Mr Parker.
“Obviously we work with Scottish Government on a whole host of issues and although the enterprise zones will benefit, it certainly does not follow that the Borders will be neglected.
“In fact, only last week we had the announcement of a European funded scheme which will see Scottish Government Europe and SBC providing over £700,000 in investment to support diversification from the fishing industry in the Eyemouth area.
“We are also actively working with the Scottish Government on the next generation broadband project and during 2012 full scale construction of the Borders railway will commence.
“The Borders is doing well by working in partnership with government and although we are not involved in this particular initiative, many other initiatives and projects that are going well.”