South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has called on the UK and Scottish Governments to “get their act together” over the Borderlands Growth Deal.

The local MSP was commenting after questioning the Cabinet Secretary for the Economy Keith Brown in the Scottish Parliament today (9 January) about the lack of progress in developing a deal for the South of Scotland and Cumbria.

The questions came following the publication of a report by the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Communities Committee today which warned that rural areas and towns not covered by existing City Region Deals must not “miss out or lose out” against bigger cities and initiatives such as the Borderlands Initiative should not be seen as “the poor cousin of City Region Deals”.

The Committee’s report also argued that local communities and businesses should be involved in the development of any deals in a meaningful way so they can help shape projects, and should not just be “informed after decisions have been made” prompting Colin Smyth to urge the UK and Scottish Governments and the five local authorities who have developed the draft Borderlands proposals, not to continue to keep them secret.

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament today, Colin Smyth questioned Keith Brown about the report, asking “One of the warnings that are given in the Local Government and Communities Committee report is that rural areas that are not covered by current city deals must not miss out or lose out to bigger cities”.

“Dumfries and Galloway is not covered by any city deal, so why have no meaningful negotiations involving the Scottish and UK Governments and the five local authorities that cover the borderlands taken place?”

“When will we see those negotiations begin? When will funding be made available for specific projects?”

“Given the committee’s concern that local communities and businesses should be involved in shaping those projects, will the cabinet secretary also ensure that there is an end to the secrecy surrounding the projects that have been submitted to the Government by the borderlands local authorities?”.

Keith Brown replied including stating that, “We must have an agreed process for how we go forward. Therefore, whether we are talking about the borderlands, the Ayrshire growth deal, Moray, which has also asked for a growth deal, Falkirk, which is not part of any growth deal, or some of Scotland’s islands, there must be an agreed basis on which to proceed. We will make sure that all parts of Scotland, including Dumfries and Galloway, are covered by a growth deal, but we need to know whether the UK Government is on board. We need clarity about that and the basis on which it would be involved. To return to the previous point, is it the case that the UK Government will fund only through its industrial strategy? Does it want to continue to have joint deals with the Scottish Government? Will it be constrained and fund only reserved issues? Of course, the UK Government did not do that with the Democratic Unionist Party when it put £1.5 billion towards matters that are all devolved, not reserved”.

“I assure the member that there will be a deal for Dumfries and Galloway, but we need clarity and we would like to know whether the UK Government is on board for that and the other deals that we think should take place across Scotland”.

Commenting after the exchange in Parliament Colin Smyth added, “The progress from the UK and Scottish Government’s over a Borderlands Growth Deal is absolutely woeful and we don’t even have an agreed process to develop a deal. It’s a huge frustration that the two Governments don’t seem to be speaking about the deal and all they are interested in is blaming each other for the fact that so far we haven’t seen a single penny allocated to the Borderlands Growth Deal by the UK or Scottish Governments, while £3.3billion has been allocated to City Region Deals that don’t cover Dumfries and Galloway”.

“Both Government’s need to get their act together, get round the table and start meaningful negotiations on a deal so we can make sure that Dumfries and Galloway gets the investment we need in key projects such as broadband and support for businesses and doesn’t continue to lose out to other parts of Scotland”.

“We also need to see an end to the secrecy over the proposals. These were submitted to the two Governments months ago in order to kick start the negotiating process but so far they seem to be gathering dust on the shelves of Ministers offices in Edinburgh and London who seem to be reluctant to share them with anyone”.

“The Scottish Parliament’s Local Government Committee were clear in their report that local communities and businesses should be involved in City Region Deals in a meaningful way but that’s difficult when they have no idea what the proposals. The five local councils and the UK and Scottish Governments should agree now to publish the Borderlands proposition submitted to both Governments last year and ensure that local communities and businesses can have their say on the draft proposals”. 

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