Business leaders urged to back £1billion City Region deal bid

Scottish Borders Council (SBC) is backing plans to secure a £1 billion cash boost for the south-east of Scotland – and bosses are being urged to do the same.

If the bid for a City Region Deal is successful, it would be a welcome boost for Midlothian, West Lothian, East Lothian, the City of Edinburgh and Fife councils, as well as the Borders.

And the support of business leaders is seen as crucial.

The application is being developed for submission to the Westminster and Scottish governments early next month.

A long-term vision of the region’s economy was presented at a business breakfast in Edinburgh on Monday hosted by the six-council South East Scotland City Region.

Businesses are being asked to identify key priorities for growth and to pledge support for the bid. The aim is to develop a deal with the UK and Scottish governments designed to accelerate growth and will concentrate on the area’s strengths – knowledge, culture and technology.

The City Region Deal seen is a mechanism for accelerating growth through investment in infrastructure, skills and innovation. Experts say this will create a step change in economic performance that will generate funds to pay back the initial investment.

If the bid succeeds, it is estimated that an additional £3.2billion of private sector investment could be attracted.

SBC leader David Parker said: “The City Region Deal is intended to tackle deep-rooted inequality, the wide variance in productivity across the region and significant infrastructure constraints.

“All of these potentially hold back the economic performances in each local authority area and the Scottish Government recognises that getting a better-performing economy requires helping every area improve its performance – so this is not just about pumping more resources into one booming part of Scotland.”

Councillor Parker added: “We hope that a City Region Deal can make available to the Borders a share of £1 billion investment over the next 10 years and thus help boost the local and regional economy, as well as tackling inequalities.

“But these opportunities can only be made as a result of a pragmatic co-operation with the five other local authorities.”

Councillor Stuart Bell, SBC’s executive member for economic development, said: “We are working very closely with the five other councils to make the City Region Deal bid a success.

“This does not mean that we are at risk of losing our identity, or of creating a new tier of government. No less than in the Kingdom of Fife, the Scottish Borders prides itself on its unique identity, local voice and local decision-taking on local priorities. We are a rural economy which is a green complement to the city, but we have much in common with Dumfries and Galloway, which is why we work with them on rural economic issues in the South of Scotland Alliance. We also have much in common with Northumberland and Cumbria, which is why we work with them – as well as with Carlisle and Dumfries and Galloway – on the Borderlands initiatives on tourism and transport.

“And, of course, we have been working for many years with our neighbours in the Lothians, Edinburgh and Fife on strategic planning and transport issues.”

The six councils say the deal is about greater autonomy and disseminating powers for the region to make public service delivery more effective and to tackle inequality and deprivation. Working in partnership with stakeholders in the business and academic communities is seen as crucial to the bid’s success.

A positive response from ministers would see detailed work on prioritising potential investment continuing with both governments.