Monday, 9 June 2014

Sheep country devastated by lack of Enterprise

Local politicians in sheep and rugby country were distinctly unhappy last year when it was revealed investment in the local economy by Scottish Enterprise had virtually disappeared off the bottom of the measurable scale. They may be about to experience a further bout of outrage if they've spotted the latest localised end of term report from the enterprise agency.

Not so long ago the now defunct Borders local enterprise company (LEC) was ploughing £10 million a year into business ventures and infrastructure projects aimed at boosting local prosperity. But after all LECs were axed by the Scottish Government in 2008 rural areas like ours began to suffer as an even larger share of the investment cake was devoured by Central Scotland.

So woeful were the region's 2012/13 returns from Scottish Enterprise's inappropriately titled "Activity Report" that councillors in charge at Scottish Borders Council vowed to lobby for increased allocations of cash for investment in the Borders. Among the stand-out statistics: only one Regional Selective Assistance (RSA) grant valued at £175,000 to create 24 new local jobs out of a Scottish spend of £43.7 million on 188 ventures; just eight companies entering the Business Gateway pipeline; number of innovation grants approved - six.

This failure to achieve very much across a number of key indicators prompted council leader David Parker to tell The Peeblesshire News: "It is my view that much more central government investment is now required to bring growth back to the Borders economy and this report offers clear evidence of that requirement."

But it would appear the plea from the Borders may have fallen on deaf ears, or perhaps our elected members carry less clout than they would have us believe. The comparable levels of performance in 2013/14 are even more doom laden and disappointing if that is possible. While the rest of Scotland received £52.76 million in RSA, Borders pulled in nothing at all. That's right, not a single £ sterling. There were no accepted offers, and therefore no jobs were created and none were safeguarded from this important form of assistance.

Meanwhile only three local enterprises entered the Business Gateway pipeline while the number of innovation grants approved fell from six to three. In the same period there was one solitary Borders investment worth £200,000 from the Scottish Investment Bank which spent an impressive £32.5 million in total.

And in case we were pinning our hopes on spin-off benefits or a commercial legacy from this year's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the Scottish Enterprise report shows not one of the 432 contracts awarded by Games organisers went to a Borders-based business.

So how can any rural area expect to compete robustly for growth and prosperity under these circumstances and with such a pathetic level of assistance from national agencies? And the Borders is not alone in its plight; I'd invite you to take a look at Scottish Enterprise's "achievements" in neighbouring Dumfries & Galloway for they are equally unimpressive.

The number of people in work in the Scottish Borders fell from 55,800 in 2008 to 52,300 in 2012, according to Government figures. And as local authorities and other public bodies continue to shed staff in a bid to drive down costs this unhealthy trend is set to continue unless the private sector is given the wherewithal to take up the slack.

But unless things change the prospects are not encouraging, even with the delivery of the much trumpeted Borders Railway.

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