Work on setting up new enterprise agency for south of Scotland to start within months

Mid Berwickshire councillor Mark Rowley.
Mid Berwickshire councillor Mark Rowley.

Councillors were told this week that work will start in earnest at the end of the year to ensure that a dedicated south of Scotland enterprise agency is fully operational by 2020.

Full participation in interim arrangements ahead of the agency’s establishment – announced in the summer by the Scottish Government – was endorsed at Tuesday’s meeting of Scottish Borders Council’s executive committee.

“This will enable different approaches to be tested and, importantly, it will allow crucial building blocks to be put in place so that the new agency operates effectively from inception,” stated a report from the council’s chief economic development officer, Bryan McGrath.

“The agency is a once-in-a-generation opportunity with the potential to improve the level of investment in economic growth, enterprise, skills and innovation in this region.

“We are working closely with Dumfries and Galloway Council, Scottish Enterprise, Skills Development Scotland and Scottish Government officials to develop ambitious, game-changing proposals for the interim arrangements.”

After lobbying from business groups, colleges and councils who feel the economic and investment needs of the low-waged, ageing south of Scotland have been largely ignored in recent years, the Scottish Government announced its plans for the agency in June.

This establishment of the agency on April 1, 2020, will require primary legislation, and a bill will be introduced in the Scottish Parliament next year.

The new organisation will effectively put the south on the same footing as the Highlands and Islands, the only other Scottish region with its own dedicated enterprise agency.

Mr McGrath urged councillors to strongly support the transitional arrangements to be outlined by a national strategic board next month.

“Scottish Government ministers have given a commitment that the interim approach will be put in place by the end of 2017,” he stated.

“It offers the opportunity to work towards a clear economic plan for the south of Scotland, understand how best to deliver improvements and carry out some early projects.”

However, with the governance, budget and investment levels of the new agency yet to be clarified, Mr McGrath cautioned: “It is important to emphasise that the ambition to transform the economy of the South of Scotland will not be achieved without a significant uplift in resources and investment.”

The South of Scotland Alliance has welcomed the announcement by Scottish Government economy secretary Keith Brown that an interim partnership will be established prior to the enterprise agency being formed.

Mid Berwickshire councillor Mark Rowley, the council’s executive member for business and economic development and chairman of the alliance, said: “While this will not be fully operational until April 2020 as new legislation is required, the establishment of the partnership in the interim will ensure that the south of Scotland benefits from a new approach to economic development as soon as possible and also enables us to carry out some early projects and develop a clear economic plan for the south of Scotland.”

Councillor Elaine Murray, leader of Dumfries and Galloway Council and a fellow member of the alliance, added: “Having the arrangements in place by the end of this year is important.

“The subsequent two years of interim arrangements will then provide the opportunity to put crucial building blocks into place which will help to ensure that the new agency operates effectively from day one.

“The private sector’s involvement and active engagement in both the partnership and the future agency is critical to ensuring that this delivers on the vision of transforming the south of Scotland and delivering the growth and economic prosperity that we all wish to see.”