Calls for a transformative Enterprise Agency

PARTNERSHIP working between the new South of Scotland Enterprise Agency and the public, private and third sector partners can transform the area’s rural economy into one of the most vibrant in Scotland and beyond.

Jan Falconer, head of economic development at Dumfries and Galloway Council, said the end result would be a “strong, resilient, diversified, sustainable” economy, built upon cohesive and enterprising communities, rich in economic and social opportunity.

Ms Falconer revealed her hopes in a submission on the South of Scotland Enterprise Bill. The Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee was in Dumfries this week as the new Agency moves toward reality.

The local authority senior officer said a further result should be a varied and skilled workforce that enjoyed pay and conditions corresponding in size with the best in Scotland.

“Entrepreneurship and innovation will be commonplace, with young people confidently looking forward to high quality educational, training and employment prospects as basis to realising their full potential in the South of Scotland,” Ms Falconer added. “The region needs to increase its economic output and the wealth retained within the area; and in looking outward, to maximise the contribution it makes to Scotland’s National Ambition for Inclusive Economic Growth.”

South of Scotland Enterprise was required to help meet “significant” economic and social challenges created by the distinctive rural nature of Dumfries and Galloway. To achieve that ambition, Ms Falconer said it was essential for the Agency to have the necessary capacity and resources.

There was a need for a “resilient, future proofed” private and third sector; a skilled and adaptable workforce; a range of career opportunities for young and older people to encourage people to stay and or relocate; and for the South of Scotland to be a net contributor to the Scottish and UK economy.

The area faced various challenges including being the most sparsely populated area outside of the Highlands and Islands, low wealth creation, low average weekly wages, outward migration of young people and a shrinking workforce, and significant connectivity issues in relation to transport and digital infrastructure.

She said the new Agency would empower the South of Scotland to drive forward its own future, one that is created in the south, of the south and for the south, with the contribution of national players remaining essential.

It was also important to recognise that it took time to deliver strategic goals, especially relating to “entrenched structural factors”.

“We must be willing to take a long-term view of what we are trying to achieve in the South of Scotland and what it will take in resources and collective effort to deliver it,” she added.

There was a need for a registered headquarters, but the Agency needed to resist the location of a premier site in one location, which would alienate stakeholders. Importantly, the Agency had to ensure that its presence reached into every part of the South of Scotland and was delivered where, when and how best suited the end user. Staff should be embedded in local communities across the area, fully mobile and able to respond to the needs of businesses, communities and stakeholders wherever there may be based.

Council leader Elaine Murray said the new Agency could transform the efforts of current partners to drive forward the economy of the South by connecting efforts around a regional agenda and providing structure, focus, alignment and momentum.

“We aren’t here to ask for handouts; we are ambitious to transform the South of Scotland into one of the most vibrant rural economies in Europe, making a significant contribution to both the Scottish and UK economies,” she said.

“While we support the Bill, we would like to see local accountability drastically improved. The Agency that is set up must be accountable to the people who live here in Dumfries and Galloway not just Ministers and the Scottish Parliament.”