South Scotland

South of Scotland has not had a 'fair deal', MPs' report says

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Scotland's border regions have not had a "fair deal" from either Holyrood or Westminster, according to a committee of MPs.

Members of the UK Parliament's Scottish Affairs Committee urged the administrations to work together to tackle the problems facing the area.

Their report highlighted "major structural challenges facing residents in the south of Scotland".

It also called for the new Borders Railway to be extended to Carlisle.

In the report, Our Borderlands - Our Future, the committee said Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders had been adversely affected by the "instinct of the Scottish government to centralise power and functions in Edinburgh".

It recommends that the UK and Scottish governments work together on a series of issues affecting the region. They include:

  • extending the Borders Railway south, from Galashiels to Carlisle
  • ensuring all public sector employees in the south of Scotland are paid the living wage
  • locating public sector jobs "beyond London and Edinburgh"
  • tackling youth unemployment, low wages and underemployment
  • remedying the centralisation of Scottish Enterprise, which has had a "negative impact on the economic development and enterprise culture in the south of Scotland".

Members also highlighted problems regarding the rollout of superfast broadband in the area.

They said its link with youth migration showed that it could have "significant and damaging potential consequences".

The committee also found that vast swathes of the region do not have adequate mobile phone coverage and they called on Westminster to tighten the regulations which require operators to extend coverage to remote rural areas.

'Future prosperity'

They accepted the problems in the area were also faced by other communities but they argued that in the south of Scotland these had been "brought into sharp focus post-devolution, where both the policies of the UK government and Scottish government have a direct impact on the Borderlands".

The MPs stressed: "Throughout this report we have repeatedly called for more collaboration, both between local authorities across the Scotland-England border, and between the UK and Scottish governments, specifically in delivering major infrastructure projects which are crucial to the future prosperity of the region."

They said local enterprise bodies had been scrapped in favour of the creation of a centralised Scottish Enterprise, to the detriment of the south of Scotland.

"At the same time, the UK government's capacity to deliver its responsibilities in Scotland has reduced," he added.

"It has been too easy for Whitehall departments to assume that their major functions are devolved, and to not give adequate attention and priority to administering their reserved functions north of the border.

"Both of these trends have had a tangible, negative impact on the daily lives of people in the south of Scotland."

'Lethargy and fatalism'

Committee chairman Ian Davidson pointed to the success of initiatives in the Highlands and Islands in invigorating a local economy and promoting a distinct identity.

He said: "The Borderlands of Scotland have not had a fair deal from either the UK or Scottish governments."

"There is also a lack of dynamism and of focus in addressing the multiple problems of the region," he added.

"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."

A Scottish government spokeswoman said it was open to discussing new approaches to meeting the "needs and aspirations" of local communities.

She added: "In August 2013 we launched the Borderlands Initiative at a cabinet meeting in Hawick to facilitate cross-border council discussions and enhance joint working by local authorities in order to develop mutual economic and social links.

"The issues are complex however - and we recognise that different localities will have differing appetites for local autonomy and accountability as well as for the attendant risks that are associated with particular responsibilities."

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