South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has criticised the Scottish and UK Government for claiming to back the Borderlands Initiative – but failing so far to provide any funding towards developing it, including support to develop a Borderlands Growth Deal.
Dumfries and Galloway and Scottish Borders Council’s in Scotland have been in discussions with Carlisle, Cumbria and Northumberland Council’s in England as part of the Borderlands Initiative. The local councils are working together to develop a Borderlands Growth Deal involving a series of major capital projects from both sides of the border to be presented to the UK and Scottish Government’s for funding.
However, it was revealed in the Scottish Parliament earlier this week (7 June) that so far only the local councils themselves- including Dumfries and Galloway Council who have allocated an initial £150,000 for development work- have put forward funding to support the development of the deal, with no contributions to date from either the Scottish or UK Government. In the Scottish Parliament the South Scotland MSP asked Keith Brown, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work what support the Scottish and UK Governments planned to give for the development of a Borderlands Growth Deal.
Speaking in Parliament Colin Smyth said:
“The Cabinet Secretary will be aware that the Borderlands Initiative is being taken forward by Dumfries and Galloway Council and Scottish Borders Council, working with Carlisle City Council, Cumbria County Council and Northumberland County Council in England, but to date there has not been a single penny from either the United Kingdom Government or the Scottish Government. It has been left to local authorities to pick up the bill, despite both Governments claiming—as the Scottish Government has claimed again today—to support the initiative. Will the cabinet secretary tell us exactly what support the Scottish Government intends to provide for the development of a borderlands growth deal, and whether he is aware of any UK Government funding for the initiative?”
In reply, Keith Brown said:
“I am not aware of any direct funding from the UK Government. The Edinburgh city region deal will include Scottish Borders Council, so money will come from both the UK Government and the Scottish Government for it”.
“We established the borderlands initiative, but it is for local authorities to take such things forward. We would be falling into the trap of being centralising if we were to decide exactly what initiatives should be taken forward. We will rely on the representations and proposals that local authorities make to us, and we will seek to support them. What we do will depend on what those proposals are”.
“Whether through support such as Scottish Borders Council has had for the Borders railway, or the other infrastructure and regeneration investments that we have made across the south of Scotland, including in Dumfries and Galloway, the Scottish Government will support communities across the area, and we urge the UK Government to do likewise”.
Commenting after question time Colin Smyth added:
“Local authorities from across the Borderlands have been in discussion for some about how they can work together to promote economic growth and competitiveness for the area and that is now being developed into a detailed Borderlands Growth Deal bid. However, to date only the Councils have funded that work and no funding has come from either the Scottish or UK Government’s despite them both claiming to support such a deal. There is no doubt that if the Governments put their hand in their pockets to help resource the work then a deal could be brought together far quicker. Their failure to support the deal with hard cash really does put into doubt the commitment of both the UK and Scottish Government.”
The Borderlands Initiative brings together the five cross-border local authorities in South Scotland and the North of England to promote economic growth and competitiveness of the area that straddles the Scotland-England border. The initiative was established following a report in 2013 entitled, ‘Borderlands: can the North East and Cumbria benefit from greater Scottish Autonomy?’
The Councils are currently developing projects as part of a Borderlands Growth Deal. These projects could include the development of a Centre of Excellence for sustainable food production in the Canonbie area, while there could be specific support for economic growth areas such as tourism and energy, food and drink and forestry. In terms of transport and connectivity, it is hoped it might lead to road improvements to the A75 and between the M74 and Dumfries, West Coast Mainline improvements, a Borders/Waverly Railway extension, a programme of railway station reopening and digital improvements including ensuring the region benefits form hyperfast broadband.