MSPs back the need for new south of Scotland agency

MSPs have endorsed the need for a new enterprise agency in the south of Scotland.

The Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee published its findings this week and stated there was “no doubt” it was now required.

The politicians had heard evidence from a range of groups, agencies and individuals with an interest in the future of the area.

In its report, the committee stated the area faced a “significant number of economic, social and geographic challenges” that were not being sufficiently addressed through current economic support mechanisms.

It backed the Scottish Government’s view that the new agency would help support the enterprise and skills needs of the area and provide a vehicle to encourage economic growth.

The consultation and preparation work carried out to date by the South of Scotland Economic Partnership (SoSEP) was commended and would provide a “solid foundation” on which to develop the new agency.

MSPs called on the Government to confirm that the agency would have sufficient flexibility to allow it to operate out with its geographical boundaries and to collaborate with other enterprise agencies to fulfil its role.

Its creation should enhance the “current support landscape” rather than adversely impact on any existing provision – coordination was required with all existing agencies operating in the region, including the Strategic Board.

The MSPs also said they were satisfied that the new south of Scotland enterprise agency would not need the compulsory purchase powers available to Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and this would not put it at a disadvantage.

The Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy will now reflect on whether there should be any change to the proposal that the new agency would not have the powers – held by existing enterprise agencies – to enter on to land without permission and to require people to provide information.

The Committee agreed with the Scottish Government’s intention that the services of the agency should be “co-located” with other agencies, where practical. That would, it said, bring significant benefits, in terms of having a presence in and being accessible across its whole area, aiding the provision of a “one-stop shop” approach, as well as being more cost-effective.

Board membership should be from individuals with as wide a range of interests, skills, expertise and experience relevant to the south of Scotland as possible. An interest in the new agency across all sectors in the area should be harnessed and used to encourage applications from a wide a range of interests.

On finance, it considered the Scottish Government’s intention to ensure initially that there was an equivalence in budget between the new agency and HIE to be an “appropriate and proportionate” approach.

The findings stated: “The Committee also noted the Cabinet Secretary’s assertion that the £42m funding for the new agency in 2022/23 would provide an overall increase in funding for the area. However, it would welcome an estimate of how much of an increase in funding this would represent prior to Stage 2 consideration of the Bill.”

The full findings can be read by clicking the link: