Ministers are being urged to make boosting the Borders’ tourist appeal one of the key tasks of the new enterprise agency being set up for the south of Scotland.
A consultation period on the remit and aims of the agency opened last Thursday, and Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Rachael Hamilton seized that opportunity to highlight the importance of attracting more visitors.
Mrs Hamilton, the Conservative Party’s spokesman for tourism and small business at Holyrood, said: “Tourism must be a focus of the south of Scotland economic enterprise agency.
“It makes a contribution to the region, and by not including it as a focus, it may be overlooked or not be able to fully capitalise on the opportunities the enterprise agency will bring.
“This is a great opportunity for the south of Scotland and the Scottish Borders, and we need to make sure we get this right. That means focusing on the key areas that drive our local economies.
“To focus on tourism in the south of Scotland can help improve low productivity, increase below-average business size and grow low wages.”
Scottish Government economy secretary Keith Brown assured her that tourism would be a priority for the agency, saying: “I recognise that it is crucial, which is why I talked about attracting visitors from far and wide and about how central tourism is to the south of Scotland.
“We are very seized of how important tourism is. Rachael Hamilton and I agree on that.”
An interim economic partnership has already been set up to pave the way for the new agency, and a £10m budget was agreed for it in the government’s latest spending plans.
Mr Brown told Holyrood: “The consultation will ask the people, businesses and the voluntary sector across the south of Scotland what would make this agency work for them.
“We have set out our overarching vision for the agency that drives inclusive growth across the area.
“We now want people to help shape the detail of the activity the agency can take forward to deliver those aims.
“This is a tremendous opportunity to transform the area’s economy, building on its significant strengths and traditions, and the launch of this consultation is a milestone moment for the future prosperity of the region.
“The south of Scotland is a beautiful area and has played a long and important part in the history of the Scottish economy.
“It nurtured Scotland’s textile industry, its agriculture and forestry sectors are thriving and it has a growing tourism industry.
“It has a diverse business base, many of which are small and family-owned.
“The economic seeds are all there and, with the right nurturing, can flourish.”
The consultation runs until Thursday, June 7.
Economic partnership chairman Russel Griggs added: “We are ambitious for the south of Scotland. The Scottish Government has made a positive commitment to the area, and today’s consultation launch takes us a step closer to the agency we need.
“We want to make sure that people across the South of Scotland take this opportunity to shape their future.
“Over the next few months, we will be out and about meeting communities and businesses to hear about what matters to them and what the new agency can do to support them.”
Go to consult.gov.scot/economic-policy-unit/new-enterprise-agency-for-the-south-of-scotland to have your say.