Leading SNP politicians in the Borders are joining forces to back Scottish Government proposals for a major change in EU administrative region boundaries within Scotland, which could lead to the Borders and other South Scotland areas accessing far better funding options from Brussels.
Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Calum Kerr MP and Christine Grahame MSP are all strongly supporting the creation of a new South of Scotland administrative region which has been suggested by the South of Scotland Alliance and Scottish Borders Council.
Paul Wheelhouse MSP, who worked for 19 years as an economic development consultant prior to being elected in 2011 stated:
“I warmly welcome the fact that the Scottish Government has listened to the South of Scotland Alliance, Scottish Borders Council and those of us who have also advocated this change for many years. I and my colleagues, Calum and Christine are delighted Scottish Ministers are consulting on creation of a new region for Southern Scotland and strongly support this move.
“This could be truly transformational for our area, in a similar way to the transformation that has occurred in the Highlands. I meet many businesses frustrated that they are currently unable to obtain funding support for investment projects locally due to how we are currently classified for EU funding. That is why I took the opportunity to flag this up as being badly needed when Minister Fergus Ewing MSP chaired the stakeholder summit in Hawick last week.
“The needs of South of Scotland are perhaps less well recognised outside our patch than those of the Highlands and Islands are, because of the effect of the current unhelpful statistical regions used to inform policy hide our challenges – we also have low unemployment, but this masks the high levels of in work poverty caused by low wages. Crucially, productivity (GDP) per capita in areas like the Borders and North and East Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway are now considerably lower than many areas in the Highlands and Islands and we therefore have every bit as great a need to secure vital investment for infrastructure, skills and economic diversification – this having been something I flagged up as an issue in my own maiden speech in 2011.
“This very welcome change, if agreed following the consultation, could not only provide better access and higher rates of funding support for individual projects, drawing upon up to €941 million of EU funding allocated to Scotland for the period 2014-20 for such ends, but this could also help inform new regional policy development and transport infrastructure opportunities. We should all very vocally get behind this change.”
Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP Mr Kerr said: “This is a massive opportunity for the Borders and one we need to take advantage of.
“It has the potential to completely transform the funding help we receive and to make this a better place to live and work. Scottish Borders Council has considered the proposal in depth and has passed its support for the change on to the Scottish Government, which is now considering all the responses.
Mr Kerr explained: “The problem is that at present, we’re combined with more affluent areas such as Edinburgh and Dundee when it comes to deciding which areas need higher rates of EU funding. Here in the Borders, we have a lower level of GDP per head, but that’s hidden by the fact that we’re lumped in with these major centres of population.”
He continued: “With a new South of Scotland area, we can do better because we’d be combined with other regions such as Dumfries and Galloway and Ayrshire which share similar issues.
“For instance, GDP per head here is lower than Scottish, UK and EU averages, we all have a relatively large ageing population, wages are below the Scottish average, and our towns and communities need diversification.
And Christine Grahame commented:
“If we can push this through, then these issues would be highlighted more and in turn that would mean policymaking could be better focused on providing specific measures to help support our economic development.”
“Research shows that changing the rules wouldn't adversely affect any of the existing Scottish areas and it could represent a net gain for Scotland as a whole.”
Mr Kerr added: “It’s great that I’m working with Paul and Christine to back this proposal and hopefully our support will reinforce the terrific work which has been done by the council on this.
“Officials have been actively engaged on this for months. Let’s hope that the Scottish Government is able to take our thinking on board and react positively to the idea of change. We really could all be winners here.”
The campaign is to change EU boundaries for NUTS2 regions - standing for the Nomenclature of Units for Territorial Statistics.
At present there are four of these areas in Scotland and the Borders is part of the East of Scotland NUTS2 area which also takes in Edinburgh and this region, because of the skewing affect of Edinburgh, results in the East of Scotland being seen as too wealthy per capita to justify higher rates of EU and domestic grants being available without affecting “States Aid” regulations, designed to prevent unfair levels of public subsidy being issued.
The proposal is to create a new fifth region - South of Scotland - which would cover a zone including the Scottish Borders, all three Ayrshire authorities, Dumfries and Galloway and the Clydesdale area of South Lanarkshire, if approved.