The new enterprise agency being proposed for the south of Scotland must be held to account locally rather than just at Holyrood, the Scottish Government has been told.
That’s the message being sent by South Scotland Labour list MSP Colin Smyth to ministers following a visit by the Scottish parliament’s rural economy and connectivity committee to Dumfries this week.
Councils, businesses, communities and residents also made the case for local accountability at a workshop and formal meeting of the committee at the town’s Easterbrook Hall on Monday.
Mr Smyth, the only South Scotland MSP on the committee, has pledged to put forward a series of amendments to the bill establishing the new agency to create a legal requirement for it to consult locally and ensure it can be held to account by stakeholders in the region.
He said: “During the workshop and formal meeting, there was overwhelming support for a south of Scotland enterprise agency.
“Local residents, community groups, businesses and local authorities want to see an agency which has the powers and budget to transform the local economy and provide new opportunities in a way which hasn’t been done before.
“However, the clear message from the local community was that the new enterprise agency should be accountable to people living here in Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders, not politicians in Edinburgh.
“The bill that is currently before parliament has no mechanism and no requirement for the agency to consult or be held to accountable by local people, and that is wrong.
“Under the current plans, the board of the new agency will be fully appointed by ministers in Edinburgh and they will only report to the government, which will have the power to tell the agency what to do without any consultation. That needs to change. I intend to submit amendments to the bill to improve local accountability and ensure we have an agency that is rooted here in the south of Scotland and can be held to account by the people who actually live here.”
The committee will hold a further workshop on the bill to gather views and opinions from businesses and communities in Galashiels on Wednesday, January 23.
That informal meeting and public participation event, starting at 7.15pm, will be held at the Scottish Borders Campus in Nether Road.
Mid Berwickshire councillor Mark Rowley, Scottish Borders Council’s executive member for business and economic development, was also at Monday’s meeting, and he said: “Everyone in the south of Scotland wants to see the area’s potential maximised, with the educational, training and employment prospects available to help us retain our young people and attract others, as well as inward investment.
“A dedicated agency can also help provide more economic assistance for communities and social enterprises, better marketing and promotion of the region, and further improvements to digital and transport connectivity, amongst many other things.”
“Over the past decade, the region has missed the focal point that an agency such as Highlands and Islands Enterprise brings.
“The current bill going through the Scottish parliament brings the prospect of an enterprise agency for our region into being but, most importantly, one that is built in and for the south of Scotland which will address the specific challenges, opportunities and ambitions of our area.”
Committee convener Edward Mountain added: “Our engagement events in the south of Scotland are a great opportunity for the committee to hold discussions on the bill in the heart of the community.
“We are looking forward to meeting a wide range of businesses, community organisations and members of the public in attendance, where they are invited to ask questions and to offer their opinions.
“We urge everyone with an interest in the bill to come along and let us know what they think of an enterprise agency in the south of Scotland and how it can encourage productivity, wage growth and skill levels.”