GOVERNMENT ACCUSED OF “MORE CENTRALISATION” AFTER CONFIRMATION ECONOMIC PARTNERSHIP WON’T HAVE FINAL SAY ON £10M BUDGET SPEND

The news that Scottish Government rather than the new interim South of Scotland Economic Partnership will have the final say on how the partnership spends its £10m budget has prompted accusations of “more centralisation”. 

South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth made the accusation against the Scottish Government after a Parliamentary exchange between the local MSP and the Cabinet Secretary for the Economy Keith Brown confirmed that the Partnership won’t be able to make any final decisions on how it spends its funding.

In his statement Keith Brown told Parliament that “The partnership will make RECOMMENDATIONS on potential projects” with the Government having the ultimate say. 

Commenting on the news Colin Smyth said, “The Scottish Government were rightly criticised for taking a top down approach to the appointment of members of the new Interim Partnership rather than allowing stakeholders in the South of Scotland to decide who they should be. However, the revelation that the partnership won’t even have the final say on how they spend their own budget but will have to make recommendations to the Scottish Government is an example of yet more centralisation”.

“The whole reason these new arrangements have been put in place is because the current centralised structures the Government has to support the economy in our area have failed. Unless the Government is prepared to allow decisions to be made in the south of Scotland by those with a stake in the area, then the new partnership will also fail. It’s time we had local solutions to local problems not more central control from the Government”.

The Parliamentary exchange came during a Government statement launching a public consultation on the shape of the planned new South of Scotland Enterprise Agency.  An enterprise and skills review by the Scottish Government recommended in October 2016 that a new “vehicle” be established to promote enterprise and skills in the South of Scotland .

However, although the Government accepted the recommendation it announced that the new Agency would not be up and running until April 2020. As a result of pressure from South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth and others, the Government agreed to put in place an interim measure of a South of Scotland Economic Partnership covering the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway, with a £10m budget. The members of the partnership were appointed by the Scottish Government and was supposed to be up and running at the end of last year, but only held its first meeting last month. 

A consultation on the shape of the full Agency is now under way and will run until 7 June. The Government have said the responses to the consultation will help inform the legislation to establish the agency and help shape its structure.

A report summarising the outcome of the consultation will be published in July.

Commenting on the consultation Colin Smyth said , “I know that there is a lot of frustration locally that having had an enterprise and skills review a year and a half ago that recommended the new agency be set up, instead of just getting on with the job the Government is planning yet another consultation. However, I would urge local businesses and other key stakeholders to have their say as part of that consultation. In particular given the revelation that the interim partnership doesn’t get to decide how to spend its budget, I would encourage people to make clear in the consultation that decisions on how the new agency is run including who it’s members are and how it spends it’s money should be made in the south of Scotland , not by Government Ministers in Edinburgh”.