Council has no voice in major seminar on city deal

Councillor Stuart Bell fears the Borders is being marginalised.
Councillor Stuart Bell fears the Borders is being marginalised.

A major seminar on the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal is to be held in the capital in April, but depite Scottish Borders Council being a major partner, no representative has been asked to speak.

Leaders of the Edinburgh, Newcastle, East Lothian and Fife councils, as well as senior staff from Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt universities, have been invited to make keynote speeches at the event, which has been organised by Westminster Forum Projects, a private company.

An invitation to the press reads: “This timely seminar examines next steps and key issues for implementing the £1.1bn Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal signed by the UK and Scottish Governments in July 2017.”

The only Borderer mentioned in the line-up is former MP and Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore – although he is there as a senior adviser for devolution.

The abscence of any input from Scottish Borders Council has led to fears that the Borders is being marginalised in the deal, from which SBC is receiving £15m over the course of 15 years, the money “mainly being used” for a proposed business park at Tweedbank.

That announcement at the end of 2017 led to Councillor Stuart Bell – leader of the SNP opposition at the council, who was involved in the early talks with the city region partners – claiming that the Borders was being given the crumbs, while the city enjoys a huge slice of the cake.

After The Southern made him aware of this event, he told us: “The organisers of this event describe themselves as “a private company offering a proposition of strict impartiality in organising timely conferences on public policy” on their website.

“It is a pity that in setting up their event in April that this private organisation have fallen into the same over-simplification which bedevilled the process of setting up the Edinburgh & South East Scotland City Region Deal.

“The Borders is part of a much wider geography than the urban focus of Edinburgh.

“The Borders might have a small population, but we represent over half of the land area of the city region – and the Borders is not a city!

“In preparing a deal we had to continually remind the city region participants to recognise the diversity of our region and not boil everything down to just Edinburgh and its surroundings.

“I really hope that we are not again being marginalised.”

A spokesperson for the council told us that both West Lothian Council and Midlothian Council have also not been asked to speak.

He said: “SBC will be attending the event. However, not all of the partners will be making presentations or speeches on the day.”

It will come as a surprise to most, however, that Scottish Borders Council has not ensured it is represented by a top executive or leading councillor in a speaking capacity.

Amongst those invited to speak include: Councillor Adam McVey, council leader, City of Edinburgh Council; Professor Charlie Jeffery, senior vice-principal, Edinburgh University; Pat Ritchie, chief executive, Newcastle City Council; Angela Leitch, chief executive, East Lothian Council and Professor Richard Williams, principal and vice-chancellor, Heriot-Watt University.

Also speaking are representatives from the South East of Scotland Transport Partnership, Fife Council, the Link Group.

The press invite goes on to add: “Delegates will discuss priorities for developing the infrastructure needed to support accelerated growth in Edinburgh and the South East, including recommendations for a regional infrastructure strategy and funding to advance projects which include data innovation centres, extensive transport improvements, a concert hall and housing development.

“Further sessions assess the support needed for key growth sectors, in particular encouraging greater collaboration between higher education and business, including proposals for a network of business incubators and development of a regional skills plan aimed at disadvantaged groups.”