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‘Watershed’ moment for Borders economy, says report

Borders railway

The Borders Railway should be extended, says the report


 

Extending the Borders railway and halting the brain drain are among measures urgently needed to underpin the south of Scotland economy, according to a new report.

It outlines the role the area’s new enterprise agency can play in driving business-led ‘inclusive growth’ as the region faces a “watershed” moment.

The Scottish Government commissioned The Good Economy in partnership with the Edinburgh-based Ethical Finance Hub to investigate the regions’s needs. It makes a series of key recommendations including an extension of 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, says the report, but the region is a ‘unique place’ capable of delivering significant inclusive jobs growth.




It states: “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.”

A total of 68 local SME businesses were interviewed as part of the extensive research, as well as local experts and Scottish financial providers.

Earlier this month, legislation was passed at the Scottish Parliament to allow the creation of a new enterprise agency for the south of Scotland.

Key findings in the report:
– 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.
– 85% of firms have 3-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.

Key recommendations:
– 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.”

The full report can be read by clicking here



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