COMMONS

Borderlands need a better deal

26 March 2015

The Scottish Affairs Committee calls on the UK and Scottish Governments to find new ways of working together, and with local government in England and Scotland, to deliver a better deal for the people of the south of Scotland, and believes this should be a major area of work during the implementation of the Smith Agreement in the next Parliament.

Report conclusions

The Committee concludes:

  • The UK Government’s responsibility does not stop at the Border: it should demonstrate this by lending its full support, through expertise, ministerial participation and financial resource, to employment initiatives in the south of Scotland, such as the Borders Employability Forum.
  • The UK and Scottish Governments should ensure that all public sector employees in the south of Scotland are paid the living wage.
  • The UK Government should work with the Scottish Government and with key agencies on both sides of the border to extend the new Borders Railway southwards from Galashiels to Carlisle.
  • Both the Scottish and UK Governments should locate public sector jobs beyond London and Edinburgh. This should run in tandem with UK Government support for communications and transport infrastructure development in the Border region.
  • The UK Government, which is responsible for employment policy, and the Scottish Government, which is responsible for higher education, training and skills development, should produce a joint strategy specifically to tackle youth unemployment, low wages and underemployment in the region.
  • There is a lack of transparency and accountability in relation to the rollout of access to superfast broadband. This is not a luxury add-on for rural communities. The link between a lack of infrastructure and youth migration serves as a stark reminder of the significant and damaging potential consequences for rural communities when the rollout of crucial infrastructure programmes is delayed.
  • The rollout of superfast broadband is a reserved area of policy: the UK Government has responsibility for ensuring targets are met in terms of timetable and delivery and should be held to account on these targets.
  • Vast swathes of the south of Scotland do not have adequate mobile phone coverage: the UK Government should tighten the regulations which require operators to extend coverage to remote rural areas.
  • Since devolution, there are some areas of legitimate policy divergence across the Border in, for example, health and education policy. However, this should not impinge on the access of residents living on both sides of the border to essential services. Insularity by service providers should not be tolerated.
  • The restructuring of Scottish Enterprise, and the centralising impetus behind it, has had a negative impact on the economic development and enterprise culture in the south of Scotland. The UK Government and Scottish Governments should work together to remedy this.

Chair's comments

Ian Davidson MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

"The Borderlands of Scotland have not had a fair deal from either the UK or the Scottish Governments. The specific challenges faced in the south of Scotland require effective collaboration and joint strategies between the different levels of Government. The UK and Scottish Governments need to find new ways of working together, and with local government, to deliver for the people of the south of Scotland.

There is also a lack of dynamism and of focus in addressing the multiple problems of the region. Unfortunately there is no equivalent to the leadership which has developed the "Our Islands - Our Future" initiative or the collaboration between Councils and other bodies in the Highlands and Islands. A combination of complacency, lethargy and fatalism seems to inhibit progressive change and sustainable growth. 

As we have repeatedly stated, collaboration and co-operation are key - not only across the border, but at all levels of government - including at local and community level. To avoid duplication of effort and the spreading of resources too thinly, community-level involvement and decision making should be underpinned by a regional framework of the type offered by the Borderlands Initiative.

We note the success of Highlands and Islands Enterprise in invigorating the economy of that area and in promoting its distinctive identity. In particular, we recognise the value of its social remit. Scottish Enterprise should be instructed to work with other bodies to promote such a social remit.

The success of the Highlands and Islands Enterprise is as much about culture, energy, commitment and leadership as it is about structures. We are confident that the south of Scotland has the potential to achieve similar success. The question is - does the will exist?"

Further information

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