Fears voiced over impact of Brexit on plans to boost Borders economy

From left, Hans Waltl, councillors Stuart Bell and Mark Rowley, John Swinney, Fergus Ewing, Dumfries and Galloway Council leader Elaine Murray and councillor Sandy Aitchison at the Galashiels meeting.
From left, Hans Waltl, councillors Stuart Bell and Mark Rowley, John Swinney, Fergus Ewing, Dumfries and Galloway Council leader Elaine Murray and councillor Sandy Aitchison at the Galashiels meeting.

Fears have been voiced that Britain’s forthcoming exit from the European Union could hamper plans to boost the Borders’ economy.

Moves to set up an enterprise agency for the south of Scotland are now well under way, but Scottish Government Deputy First Minister John Swinney has expressed concerns about the impact Brexit will have on them.

“There are significant challenges to creating a sustainable economy in the south of Scotland, not least through the impact that Brexit will have,” he said following a meeting at Galashiels transport interchange last week.

He and Holyrood rural economy and connectivity secretary Fergus Ewing were in the Borders to meet members of the South of Scotland Alliance, made up of representatives of Scottish Borders Council, Dumfries and Galloway Council, Scottish Enterprise and private-sector interests.

Issues discussed included the importance of better broadband coverage and the impact of Brexit, due to be completed by the end of 2020, on agricultural policy.

Updates were also given on the south of Scotland enterprise agency, due to be launched in April 2020, and Borderlands growth deal.

Mid Berwickshire councillor Mark Rowley, chairman of the alliance and Scottish Borders Council’s executive member for business and economic development, said: “This was an important meeting for the alliance, given the significant progress which is being made on the south of Scotland enterprise agency and Borderlands inclusive growth deal.

“Working alongside the Scottish and UK governments, both these partnerships offer opportunities to improve the level of investment in economic growth, enterprise, skills and innovation across the south of Scotland.

“Other vital topics which affect communities across the area, from St Abbs to Stranraer, were also discussed, in particular the current Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband rollout programme.

“While many more businesses and homes in the south of Scotland now have access to superfast fibre broadband, the overall position in south of Scotland is still behind that of other areas.

We raised this issue with the cabinet secretary, and further meetings with civil servants are planned to look in detail at delivery across the region.

“Scottish Borders Council was delighted to host this meeting in Galashiels transport interchange, and we look forward to working closely with our partners to ensure the exciting opportunities ahead of us become a reality.”

Mr Swinney, MSP for Perthshire North, added: “We want all of Scotland to flourish. That is why we have invested over £1bn in the south of Scotland to ensure local people, communities and businesses have public services fit for the future.

“We have invested in schools, colleges, universities and hospitals, as well as roads, rail, regeneration and digital connectivity, helping to develop an infrastructure which enables inclusive economic growth.

“Our meeting provided a valuable opportunity to explore a range of issues and to explore how we can work together to best support the south of Scotland economy.”