Borders losing out on development

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Last week’s front-page article under the headline “Quango defends role despite jobs freeze” demonstrates just how badly the Borders has fared on the economic development front since it lost its Local Enterprise Company (LEC) five years ago.

The decision by the Scottish Government in 2008 to dismantle the country’s network of LECs – of which Scottish Borders Enterprise was one – appears to have been followed by a drastic reduction in the amount of money available for investment.

According to the accounts of the local LEC, its staff worked with an average annual budget of £9.1million between 1992 and 2008. So in the 16 years while LECs existed, some £145.6 million was allocated exclusively for the purpose of growing this region’s economy. And that figure does not include other measures funded by the Scottish Office to combat the series of slumps in traditional industries like textiles or electronics.

Has that level of investment been maintained since 2008 when responsibility for economic wellbeing was divided up between several agencies? Highly unlikely.

An added benefit flowing from the LEC was the £2.2million distributed in pay for 50 staff members. The bulk of that money no doubt found its way into local shops and businesses, boosting their trade in the process.

These days Scottish Enterprise maintains a token presence in the Borders while the local authority does all it can on the development front with limited resources. The budget available to council officials will be far short of the £9.6million the local LEC had at its disposal in 2007/8.

The plain truth is a single organisation charged with the onerous task of bringing prosperity and inward investment to every corner of Scotland cannot hope to succeed. Rural areas are almost certain to miss out with the lion’s share of the shrinking national cake going to the cities.

Each area has a different set of problems and aspirations. What is needed is a diverse range of approaches by separate development organisations rather than a one-policy-fits-all arrangement.

Bring back the LECs – all is forgiven.

Bill Chisholm

High Croft