Break from capital could open door to EU millions for region

Councillor Stuart Bell with new stratagy plans.

Councillor Stuart Bell with new stratagy plans.

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The fragile Borders economy is set to benefit if a radical proposal to redraw the map comes to fruition.

It would determine which areas of Scotland qualify for millions of pounds in financial support from the European Union.

Since 1998, EU statisticians have divided Scotland into four large regions to inform major structural funding decisions - Eastern, Western, North-Eastern and Highlands & Islands.

Dumfries and Galloway is in the Glasgow-dominated Western zone.

EU funding eligibility takes account of each of these region’s gross domestic product (GDP) as an indicator of economic output and performance.

It is a broad brush approach which fails to acknowledge that, while GDP per head in the Eastern region is 29,900, it is only 18,600 in the Borders – well below the Highlands & Islands figure of 22,000.

A similar iniquity exists in the Western region, which has a per capita GDP of 23,900, while the Dumfries & Galloway figure is just 18,800.

After extensive lobbying by the two councils under the banner of the South of Scotland Alliance, the Scottish Government has now announced plans to embed the two areas in a fifth region – Southern Scotland – which will also embrace the low GDP council areas of North, South and East Ayrshire and South Lanarkshire.

The proposal, out to consultation until January 15, would take effect from 2018 if finally approved by the UK Government.

“I’m pleased to say this move has the support of all three south of Scotland MPs [David Mundell, Calum Kerr and Richard Arkless],” said Councillor Stuart Bell, SBC’s executive member for economic development.

Councillor Colin Smyth said: “We welcome this consultation from the Scottish Government. Our officers and members across the South have worked hard over the years to make the case. We need partners from across the proposed area to respond to this consultation positively. It really could make a difference to the south of Scotland.

“At the moment, Dumfries and Galloway are grouped together with the other areas in the west – which includes Glasgow and Ayrshires and Lanarkshire. Being grouped with these areas means that our rurality is sometimes ignored as the focus is on the larger cities.

“By creating a separate Southern Scotland area, it will allow us to tap into EU funding that we currently aren’t eligible for. This will mean more money into the south.”