South Scotland

Scottish rural poverty level 'astonishing'

Peebles - Image by Andy Stephenson
Image caption Lord Smith said life could be "very, very tough" in places like Peebles even if they looked "idyllic"

Problems with youth unemployment across Scotland risk being sidelined because of a focus on urban centres, politicians have been warned.

Lord Smith of Kelvin, who led an investigation into the wider issue, said there was "astonishing poverty" in rural regions.

He told Holyrood's finance committee that the Scottish government must "steer companies" towards those areas.

Otherwise, he warned, they risked becoming "totally depopulated".

Asked about the situation in rural Scotland, Lord Smith said: "Just because the sun is shining right now and there are green hills around Peebles and Gala - it looks idyllic - but it's actually very, very tough.

"Some of the jobs that fill the gap down there are one-man-band type things.

"There are very, very little businesses that can take on people."

He said opportunities existed in inner cities, particularly with the focus on the upcoming Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

He warned: "We need to look further afield than that, unless we want these places to become totally depopulated.

"We don't want to do that.

"These people have families and connections and so on."

He said it was important to try to encourage businesses towards more rural parts of the country.

"I think it's a job for government to try to steer companies into those areas," he added.

"Their brains are just as good as they are in the inner city.

"It's just that for a lot of them, they don't want to travel."

Lord Smith, also chairman of Scottish and Southern Energy, said it would be a "disaster" if rural colleges or university campuses were closed.

He referred to the Crichton Campus in Dumfries which brings to together the University of Glasgow, University of the West of Scotland (UWS) and Dumfries and Galloway College.

'Quite crushing'

Lord Smith, also chancellor of UWS, said he often wondered what would become of the graduates.

"It must be quite crushing for graduates to come out and end up - what's the traditional thing? - stacking shelves in a supermarket or something," he added.

He made the comments at the Scottish Parliament four months after his independent group published a report to ministers with recommendations on how to improve youth employment prospects.

Official figures released this month show that about 103,000 people aged between 16 and 24 are out of work in Scotland.

The first UK youth jobs summit was held in Dundee on 15 March to give government ministers from London and Edinburgh the opportunity to tackle the problem.

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