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South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has expressed his concern at the latest blow to the economy of Dumfries and Galloway’s as new UK Government figures reveal that the number of people claiming unemployment benefit in the region has risen.

Figures published on 24 January by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that 1590 people within the region are claiming unemployment benefits, a rise of 110 from the previous month.

Since December 2016, there is an additional 135 people claiming unemployment benefits, demonstrating an on-going slow decline in the region’s economy.

Commenting on the figures South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth said, “The jobs figures are the latest blow to the economy of Dumfries and Galloway and show the real difficulties our region faces. The figures show clearly that both the UK and Scottish Government are simply not doing enough to tackle the huge weaknesses we face in the local economy.  The Borderlands Growth Deal and the South of Scottish Enterprise Agency are two proposals that would bring investment and jobs into the region, but the progress in both is simply not good enough.

“The UK Government would rather arrange more meetings and photocalls on the Borderlands rather than come up with hard cash to invest in projects, whilst the Scottish Government is already behind schedule with its plans for a new South of Scotland Interim Agency, which it claimed would be up and running by the end of 2017. Not a penny has been spent by either Government on these initiatives to promote and grow our economy”.

“We need to see urgent action from both the UK and Scottish Government’s before even more young people join the exodus leaving our region because of the lack of jobs”

Scottish Chambers of Commerce comment on Labour Market Figures

Labour market figures for the three months ending November 2017 have seen a number of national records broken.  The number of full time employees now stands at a record high of 20.25 million, with the overall employment rate remaining at 75.3%.   In less positive news, the number of vacancies has risen to 810,000, the highest figure recorded since comparable records began 2001.

Examining the regional labour market data, Scotland’s employment rate has actually fallen by 0.2 percentage points across the September – November 2017 period.  Workers in Scotland have also seen an increase in average hours worked, by 0.4 hours (1.2%) over the last year.     

Liz Cameron, Chief Executive, Scottish Chambers of Commerce said:

“It remains encouraging that the UK’s labour market is showing considerable signs of strength, with more full time workers in post than ever before.  

“However, as was reinforced by our most recent quarterly economic survey, many industries are continuing to post vacancy levels at record highs.  This continues to suggest that skills shortages are holding back growth across the Scottish and UK economy.

“Business and government, both at a Scottish and UK level, must work together to address the skills gap. An important enabler of access to skilled workers is migration and a pragmatic approach to future immigration policy must be front of mind amongst negotiators and politicians, ensuring business growth is not held back.”

Tech literacy project reaches 39% of Dumfries and Galloway schools in first year

Half of Scottish primary schools have signed up to an initiative to boost tech literacy in the classroom in its first year – and today a campaign was launched to reach more schools in Dumfries and Galloway.

The Barefoot Computing Project works with primary teachers to help them develop the confidence, knowledge and skills they need to teach computer science.

Supported by Education Scotland and led by BT in Scotland with BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, the programme provides free workshops and resources for teachers, including Gaelic content.

In the year since its launch, volunteers have delivered 210 free workshops to 3,000 teachers across Scotland, reaching around 82,000 Scottish school children. More than 1,000 Scottish schools and 3,300 teachers have registered to use Barefoot’s online resources, helping many more pupils make the most of lessons with a computing element.

In Dumfries and Galloway, 39 per cent of primary schools have signed up on the website or taken part in a workshop, with 92 teachers registered to use the resources.

During 2018, teachers working in remote and rural schools will also be able to take part in live, interactive online workshops.

Today, Education Scotland has written to all primary head teachers to encourage more schools to take advantage of the programme, designed to fit with Curriculum for Excellence.

Alan Armstrong, strategic director at Education Scotland, told them: “It is estimated that around 90 per cent of jobs across the UK require an element of digital skills. As time goes on and technology becomes more prevalent, that figure is likely to increase.

“This is why we must take steps to ensure that our children and young people have the digital skills required to capitilise on that. Beyond this, we know that digital technology can truly enhance and enrich the learning experience. 

“Technology is an integral part of the lives of our children and young people and I’ve seen some wonderful examples of it being used in classrooms right across the country.    With your support, we can ensure that all pupils benefit from increasing confidence, competence and creativity through computing.”

Brendan Dick, BT Scotland director, said: “We’ve made great progress with Barefoot since our Scottish launch a year ago, with 50 per cent of schools now able to access resources to boost
computing confidence, competence and creativity in classrooms nationwide. But naturally we want to get that figure as close to 100 per cent as possible.

“Computational thinking provides the building blocks of the digital world – like logic, abstraction and algorithms. In an era shaped by tech, these are the core abilities children need.  We want to make tech literacy as important as reading and writing from the start.”

He added: “Overall, Barefoot has already reached more than 52,000 teachers and 1.5 million pupils. We’d like to thank all the schools and teachers – as well as all the volunteers from BT and beyond – who’ve played a part in this success.”

Getting involved with the Barefoot programme is easy and free. Teachers just need to visit the website to register.

Barefoot is part of BT’s Tech Literacy ambition and forms part of the company’s long-term commitment to help build a culture of tech literacy for the UK, reaching five million young people by 2020.


A new partnership  will devise a fresh approach to economic development in the south of Scotland, with a £10million injection for enterprise in the area.

The Scottish Government has revealed the public and private sector partners who will make up the South of Scotland Economic Partnership, which will pave the way for a dedicated enterprise agency for the region, supported by funding announced in last month’s Budget.

The partnership features members with a wealth of business experience across sectors, sizes and locations relevant to the South of Scotland, as well as representatives from education, the third sector and the public sector.

As well as bringing together key partners to boost the economic performance of the south of the country, the Scottish Government has provided a significant investment package worth £10 million.

Economy Secretary Keith Brown said:

“This new partnership for the South of Scotland will be responsible for delivering a new approach to economic growth across the region as we prepare for the establishment of a new economic development agency for the South of Scotland.

“A range of key people with business, education, public sector and third sector experience have agreed to be members of the South of Scotland Economic Partnership, and we will back their commitment with additional resources of £10m to boost economic development activities in the South of Scotland.

“The Partnership will ensure that the South of Scotland benefits from a dedicated focus in advance of the establishment of a new statutory agency.”

Mr Brown confirmed Professor Russell Griggs OBE as private sector chair of the body, and Borders Council’s Rob Dickson as the public sector lead back in November.

Professor Griggs OBE said:  “I am pleased to be working with people with such a wide range of skills, expertise and commitment to the South of Scotland.  The Partnership is now ready to bring a fresh approach to economic development to the South.  We’re ambitious for the area and determined to make early progress.”


The full membership of the South of Scotland Economic Partnership is:

Chair of the Partnership - Professor Russel Griggs, OBE

Members bringing private sector expertise

Tom Barrie, Currie Solutions

Alistair Cameron, Scotmas Ltd

John Fordyce, Three Stills Company Limited

Paula Ogilvie, Borders Book Festival and Bright Spark Partners

Tracey Roan, Roan’s Dairy

David Sulman, UK Forest Products and Scottish Timber Trade Association

Lorna Young, Indigo Words

Members bringing third sector expertise

Amanda Burgauer, Scottish Rural Action

Helen Forsyth, Berwickshire Housing Association

Fred Murray, Old Luce Community Council

Members bringing further and higher education expertise

Barbara Kelly, Crichton Leadership Group

Tony Jakimciw, Borders College

Members from public sector organisations supporting economic development in the South of Scotland

Chris Brodie, Lead Head of Skills Planning  and Sector Development, Skills Development Scotland

Douglas Cowan, Director, Highlands and Islands Enterprise

Michael Cross, Interim Director of Access, Skills and Outcome Agreements, Scottish Funding Council

Tracey Logan, Chief Executive, Scottish Borders Council

Malcolm Roughead, Chief Executive, VisitScotland

Iain Scott, Chief Financial Officer, Scottish Enterprise

Gavin Stevenson, Chief Executive, Dumfries and Galloway Council


A Parliamentary Question by South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has prompted the Scottish Government to publish the proposed membership of the new South of Scotland Enterprise Partnership.

Colin Smyth tabled the question last week to ask the Government when the membership would be announced. The question was scheduled to be answered  in Parliament (18 January) resulting in the Scottish Government publishing the list of members yesterday- months after initially promised. 

The Government also re-announced the Scottish Government’s draft budget proposals from December that allocated just £10m to the new board - less than 15% of the budget of Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Commenting on the announcement Colin Smyth MSP said, “I’m pleased that my question to the Cabinet Secretary has resulted in the Government at last announcing the membership of the new interim board, even although the new board was supposed to be up and running last year. However, there is understandable concern from the business community and third sector at the lack of transparency and openness in the process of appointing members from those two sectors.

That’s why in Parliament I urged the Cabinet Secretary to ensure that when it comes to the membership of the full Agency, he properly consults the business and third sector on that membership and the process is led from the South of Scotland, not imposed by Ministers in Edinburgh. 

“It’s also disappointing that the interim board has been awarded just £10m as that budget is less than 15% of the budget of Highlands and Islands Enterprise. That’s why I urged the Government to increase the budget to deliver the transformative economic change we need to stop the South of Scotland economy falling even further behind”.