The economy of the South of Scotland is at a ‘watershed moment’, according to a major new report.
The report, commissioned by the Scottish Government, outlines the role the area’s new enterprise agency can play in driving “business-led inclusive growth” and job creation throughout the area.
A series of key recommendations include better transport links such as extending the Borders Railway, a strategy to attract young workers and families to the area, better tourism promotion, and an overhaul of town centres.
Growing the private sector is particularly challenging because of the rural geography, but the region is a ‘unique place’ capable of delivering significant inclusive jobs growth, the report concluded.
It stated: “The core message from local experts was that the south of Scotland has entered a ‘watershed’ in its economic development, a crucial turning point and an opportunity for change which it must grasp if the region is to make the transition to sustainable and inclusive growth.”
The study – Business-led Inclusive Job Growth in the South of Scotland – was produced by The Good Economy in partnership with the Edinburgh-based Ethical Finance Hub.
A total of 68 local SME businesses were interviewed as part of the research, as well as local experts and Scottish financial providers.
Inclusive growth is defined as growth that combines increased prosperity with greater equity; that creates opportunities for all and distributes the dividends of increased prosperity fairly.
Earlier this month, legislation was passed at the Scottish Parliament to allow the creation of a new enterprise agency for the south of Scotland.
- The region’s limited labour pool and skills base are a major barrier to business-led inclusive job growth, as well as its low profile as a tourist destination.
- Transport barriers are a problem for businesses, with one company sending chauffeur-driven cars to Carlisle to pick up its key London customers.
- But 85 per cent of firms have three-year growth plans which include creating new full-time job opportunities.
- There is also a ‘stand out’ locational advantage that the south of Scotland offers businesses – ‘quality of life’, mainly the natural landscape.
- Produce and implement an integrated, multi-modal, sustainable regional transport strategy that includes extending the Borders Railway, an improved bus network and more electric car charge points.
- Develop and implement a talent retention and attraction strategy aimed at young people and young families.
- Modernise the region’s town centres as ‘smart’ places – places that are technologically, ecologically and entrepreneurially advanced – for people and businesses to live, work, shop and play.
- Enhance the region’s profile as a destination for tourism.
- Introduce more flexible financing solutions with affordable terms to help local businesses grow, and establish a Regional Investment Advisory Board to drive increased investment into the region.
Mark Hepworth, director of research and policy with The Good Economy, said: “The Scottish Government wants businesses to play a central role in delivering its inclusive growth policies at the national, regional and local levels.
“Undoubtedly, talking to businesses directly and working on the ground in real places is essential to inclusive growth policy-making. This is the key message of our study.
“The south of Scotland needs a broad front of businesses to drive inclusive job growth.
“The challenge facing the new enterprise agency is how to widen the circle of business-led inclusive job growth. The first priority is an integrated, multi-modal sustainable regional transport system; the second is an integrated strategy for attracting and retaining talent.
“All of this requires place-based investment, inclusive regeneration partnerships, and local authority leadership.”
Chris Tait, project manager of the Ethical Finance Hub, said: “We need a fairer system of finance that delivers more than just profit, working for people, prosperity and the planet.
“In the south of Scotland, there is a need to better link existing demand for finance with supply, as well as develop financing products that better meet the needs of smaller businesses.
“We recommend establishing a Regional Investment Advisory Board bringing together public, private and philanthropic funders with a mandate to drive increased investment into the region in support of business-led inclusive growth and good job creation.”
Andrew McRae, the Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) Scotland policy chair, said: “This week sees a double whammy of important news for the south’s business community.
“Smaller businesses in the south of Scotland will recognise the issues that the Scottish Government’s considered report identifies, including poor transport links and problems accessing talent. The study also astutely identifies that the best way to grow this area’s economy is to focus on giving local operators the right help.”
On the Borderlands funding deal Andrew said: “It is cheering to see governments from north and south of the border collaborating on this important project.
“The real test of this spending is to ensure that local firms are involved at every stage – that means proper consultation with businesses and it means local operators winning their fair share of contracts. Too often we’ve seen similar deals not working as they should with firms vital to an area’s success.”