Thursday, 12 November 2015

Borders economy heading for oblivion?


A devastating set of statistics which charts a dramatic loss of manufacturing jobs in the Scottish Borders has failed to alert local politicians and community leaders to the worsening plight of the local economy.

While the Highlands and Islands continues to bask in special levels of investment and effort, the south of Scotland is virtually left to its own devices with little sign of pressure from inside the region to secure a much better deal for the Borders.

The Scottish Annual Business Statistics for 2013 were published in a 250-page document in August of this year. The tables for each of the country's 32 local government areas cover key topics such as annual turnover of local companies, costs associated with wages and salaries, and the employment levels in each business sector.

The data allows comparisons to be made between 2008 and 2013, and in many instances the Borders fares badly despite claims by the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise and the local authority that every effort is being made to expand the region's economic base and to create and attract well paid jobs in a bid to halt the long-term drift of talented young people out of the area in search of career opportunities.

In 2008 the Scottish Borders region had 4,397 business "units", a figure which had fallen to 4,227 in 2013. In the same six year period total employment dropped from 31,700 to 29,200. It appears the economy has shrunk rather than expanded.

The situation in the local manufacturing sector should have alarm bells ringing. Back in 1997/98 around 9,000 Borderers were making things. But by 2008 the total was down to 6,000 and a further 1,000 manufacturing posts - one sixth of the total - were shed in the space of those six years to 2013. The 5,000-strong manufacturing workforce has probably dwindled even further by now.

The yearly turnover of the 270 manufacturing units - down from 303 in 2008 - of £574.2 million is exactly the same as it was back in 2008. The 2012 figure was £608.3 million. Gross wages and salaries in manufacturing slumped from £111 million in 2008 to £106.1 million in 2013, reducing the spending power of those working in manufacturing.

Older residents of the Borders communities will recall that not so long ago the entire region relied to a significant degree on textiles for its economic well-being. But this traditional regional trade, which earned Hawick, Selkirk, Peebles and towns in between a global reputation for quality clothing and knitwear, has taken a fearful pounding in recent decades.

According to figures compiled in 1981 there were 7,800 jobs in textiles Borders wide, and even less than 20 years ago almost 50% of manufacturing posts (4,400) lay in the textile and apparel factories.

A report commissioned by Scottish Enterprise Borders in the year 2000 predicted the textile sector employment levels would drop to just 2,700 by 2010. But the latest set of statistics show the total was down to just 2,200 in 2010 with a further 500 posts gone by 2013 when the total stood at 1,700.

Twenty textile producing businesses were lost between 2008 and 2013 during which time turnover in the sector declined from £161 million to £156.2 million. Gross wages and salaries slipped from £34.6 million to £30.9 million.

It seems incredible that even in the face of all of this damning evidence little is being done to bring truly major investment to the ailing region.

One economics expert told us: "There does not appear to be anyone with any clout who can argue the Borders case in the corridors of power. Despite numerous studies commissioned over the years by various agencies nothing of any significance has been achieved.

"It seems clear the loss of the local enterprise company in 2008 has had a very negative impact. And the fact that no-one seized on these gloomy figures when they were published appears to show an air of complacency".

The information has come to light less than six months after the publication of Our Borderlands Our Future by the House of Commons Scottish Select Committee which made a number of recommendations to tackle the economic issues faced by the Borders and Dumfries & Galloway.

Sadly there are no signs of the report being acted upon. Meanwhile countless millions of pounds in economic aid continue to be directed into Scotland's northerly outposts while at the other end of the country the Borders economy lies on a proverbial trolley in desperate need of special treatment.

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