South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has written to the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Keith Brown, setting out a proposal that would see a new South of Scotland Enterprise Agency set up by the end of the year- instead of three years’ time as proposed by the Scottish Government.
Last month the Scottish Government published Phase 2 of their Enterprise and Skills Review, which included plans to establish a new South of Scotland Enterprise Agency – but not until 2020.
The delay is caused by the choice of legal structure by the Scottish Government for the new Agency, which is to establish a new public body. This will require primary legislation to go through the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Government have said they will not bring legislation before the Scottish Parliament until 2018, which will mean the new agency won’t be fully operational until the beginning of the 2020 financial year.
However, Colin Smyth has suggested that the Government use an alternative model as an interim measure- called a local government “committee”, until the legislation has passed through the Scottish Parliament allowing the new public body to be fully established.
In the local government “committee” proposal, local councils can establish a Joint Committee under the Local Government Scotland Act 1973. While established by councils, the law enables other organisations to be members of the committee, including national agencies and the private sector. The Joint Committee therefore in effect be a shadow of the proposed new Agency with the same membership, could agree a strategic economic plan setting out the regional economic priorities and establish how they could be delivered. This would be supported by an agreement with the other partners such as the Enterprise Agency and business representatives to make clear their support for the committee’s work. This is similar to the same approach being taken to the structures that oversee the delivery of current city deals and could be set up in a matter of months, instead of three years.
Colin Smyth said:
“Having campaigned for a South of Scotland Agency for years and been heavily involved in much of the detail of what that Agency will look like, which has now been accepted by the Scottish Government, I am pleased that our campaigning has been successful. But there is no reason why we need to wait three years for that Agency to start work. I have written to the Scottish Government setting out an interim proposal that could be up and running by the end of the year”.
“This interim structure was one proposed by the two local council’s Dumfries and Galloway and Scottish Borders, as a permanent proposal for the new Agency but the Government has chosen to go with establishing a whole new legal structure that will require legislation to go through Parliament. However, there is no reason why they cannot adopt the local committee structure as an interim measure until Parliament agrees the new legislation. This would simply require meetings of the two councils to agree the membership for the South of Scotland Enterprise Agency’s new board, which should obviously include all the existing agencies and the business community and be the same as the membership of the proposed new agency. As soon as the interim structure is in place it could be given a budget and start to invest in supporting businesses in our area”.
“The economic challenges we face in the South of Scotland need a radical change to the way we support business and resource building the local economy and that needs to start now, not in three years’ time”.