THE development of a community’s economy and enriching its social cohesion to grow a skilled population are at the heart of a new agency for southern Scotland.
Connectivity in its widest sense means better public transport, cross-border education and training, providing job which meet young people’s expectations and providing housing to allow communities to grow their workforce.
This was the message to come out of a public meeting hosted by the South of Scotland Economic Partnership which is preparing for the South of Scotland Enterprise Agency to take over next April.
The meeting was led by Professor Russel Griggs, who chairs the partnership, and Rob Dickson, its lead official.
Last year the Scottish government invested £10m into the partnership and 32 projects were supported, including £9,000 to Newcastleton and district community trust to do a feasibility study into opening a bunkhouse.
It is also working with the Wigtown book festival, Moat Brae House in Dumfries, Abbotsford House, Melrose, and the Borders book festival on Scotland’s year of storytelling in 2022.
At the Hawick centre of excellence for textiles 15 young people have completed a 16-week programme.
Professor Griggs described Langholm as neither a suburb of the Central Belt nor a mirror of the Highlands & Islands.
He added; “It’s a place with a distinctive culture, dynamics and set of values. We haven’t got the story of southern Scotland out there yet but it’s happening. A new VisitScotland campaign is specifically for southern Scotland.”
Turning to young, training, employment and housing, he said: “The population is growing older. We need to give young people opportunities and choices about where they want to be.
“We’ve invested £7m in Dumfries and Galloway and Borders colleges and this will give young people more opportunity to stay but then we have to create the jobs and housing.
“To maintain a working age population we have to attract 800 working age people every year to southern Scotland. This is a present and growing problem.”
He added; “We should support everyone who wants to help grow the economy. Anything can be an enterprise: a community; a business; an arts centre like the Bucleuch Centre; and a social enterprise.
“We’ll support everyone, big and small, and everyone who wants help will get help.”
By the end of June they will have spoken to 90 businesses about inclusive growth and they were asked, if they could one thing, what would it be?
Most said an integrated public transport system to get staff to work, to send people for training and for tourism.
Professor Griggs said the new agency would not have one headquarters but would have a number of “hubs” and “spokes”. Which one a community would get depended on its size.
It would have a budget for capital spending of £42m annually and a target of employing 150 people.
On the issue of training, Judith Johnson of the Langholm Initiative said she was talking to Carlisle College about students from the Scottish side being trained there but there was an issue with cross-border funding.
She wanted to know whether, in the future, it would be easier for Langholm to work with Cumbria. Professor Griggs said the agency would have to have this conversation with its partners.
Frank Steele of FTS Dyers said he had to send his apprentices to Bradford for training. There was nowhere in Scotland.
Louise McDonnell of the Scotland Office said: “The Scottish and UK governments are talking about cross-border education and training.
“Getting the Scottish and UK funding councils to talk is very challenging.”
After the attendees discussed key issues in small groups a number of wants in the short and medium term were put forward.
This included more clarity on the funding application process, the desire for two community development workers – one for business and one for community development.
They wanted social enterprises to be part of the process and a clear definition of the emerging key sectors to identify the most appropriate ones.
People wanted better signage on strategic routes, including the M6 at Carlisle, and easier access to brown tourism signs.
They asked for a clear communication plan, a reduction in red tape, incentives for entrepreneurship and make it easier for start-ups.