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Keep up to date with the latest news and stories from across Dumfries & Galloway.

 

NEW SOUTH OF SCOTLAND DEVELOPMENT BODY SHOULD EQUAL HIGHLANDS & ISLANDS AGENCY SAYS MSP

South Scotland MSP Joan McAlpine says the new economic development agency for the South of Scotland deserves the same level of funding as the one in the highlands.

The SNP MSP, who campaigned for the agency, made her comments as the Scottish Parliament met in Dumfries to take evidence on the bill establishing the agency. 

She said:

"It's fantastic that the SNP government is passing legislation to create the new agency. The challenges faced in the south of Scotland might be different to the Highlands, but it’s vital that we receive the same levels of funding, per head of population, as Highland and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

The MSP attended the meeting of the Scottish Parliament's Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee at the Easterbrook Hall. The cross party committee will scrutinize the bill to create the agency, which will cover the Borders region as well as Dumfries & Galloway.

The new body is due to be established in 2020, however an interim partnership is currently operating in the region with a budget of £10 million for the 2018/19 financial year. That sum is in addition to the millions already spent in the region by Scottish Enterprise and Business Gateway.

The MSP said: 

“This interim funding is very welcome and some has already been utilised for the Annan Action Plan to boost the local economy after the closure of Pinneys.

“The challenges facing the South of Scotland include transport infrastructure,  a low wage economy, an ageing population and outward migration of young people. These are now compounded by Brexit and the loss of EU funding - so the agency could not come at a better time.

“We already have many strengths in the region that the agency can help build on,” continued the MSP, “such as an internationally-renowned food and drinks sector, a high quality of life, well-established primary industries such as agriculture, forestry, manufacturing and thriving tourism and cultural sectors.”

The meeting of the Scottish Parliament Committee in Dumfries looked at ways in which the new agency could be organised as well as what it’s purposes and powers might be. It also offered opportunities for members of the public and school pupils to find out more about the plans.

“This is a great example of the Scottish Parliament getting out and about across the country to meet people in local communities,” added Ms McAlpine.

COUNCIL CONFIRM £18.5 MILLION FUNDING GAP

Local Labour MSP Colin Smyth and Council Leader Elaine Murray have criticised the SNP Scottish Government’s Budget after Dumfries and Galloway Council confirmed it faced a £18.467 million funding gap.

The SNP Scottish Government’s draft budget announced in December last year will provide Dumfries and Galloway Council with a revenue grant of £285.8 million. However, the Scottish Government have also given new responsibilities to the Council and ring fenced nearly £10million for health and social care, increasing the number of hours for four years olds in nursery and providing free sanitary products in public places- without additional funding.

Analysis from The Scottish Parliament’s Information Centre (SPICE) has shown that Dumfries and Galloway Council’s budget will see a real terms cut of 3.2%.

In a briefing to councillors, officials at Dumfries and Galloway Council have confirmed that the budget will mean the council having to fill a £18.467m funding gap for 2019/20. The SNP Scottish Government’s draft budget allows for local authorities to raise Council Tax by 3%. If such an increase was agreed by Dumfries and Galloway Council it is estimated this would generate just over £2million for local services, still leaving a £16.356 million funding gap.

South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth and Councillor Elaine Murray are seriously concerned about the threat this level of cuts will mean for vital local services.

Councillor Elaine Murray said, “Vital local services in our region have already been cut to the bone as a result of cuts inflicted by the Scottish Government. When the SNP came to power in 2007, they said they were ending ring fencing for local authorities. In 2019, ring fencing is back with a vengeance, and as a consequence other council services will suffer severe cuts.

New responsibilities such as increasing the number of hours of nursery provision and measures to tackle period poverty should be funded in addition to current services and not by cutting current services. The draft budget will lead to cuts in schools, roads and local and other local amenities which have already been cut to the bone.”

Colin Smyth MSP said, “Dumfries and Galloway Council have had to make £96 million worth of cuts since 2010, so to learn that the SNP Government budget will still mean an £18.5million funding gap for the council is shocking.  This will mean more cuts in services and more public sector jobs being lost across the region. To protect vital local services in our region the SNP Government must rethink its budget and put an end to the cuts to councils”.

Five star hotel and spa plan for Crichton Hall

A SIGNIFICANT investment is set to transform Crichton Hall in Dumfries into a five star destination hotel and spa.

Mr and Mrs J Clark, the owners of Fonab Castle Hotel (Pitlochry), are in the process of completing the purchase of the 12 acre site from NHS Dumfries and Galloway.

They propose to transform the magnificent building while protecting and preserving its many attractive features.

Their plans for the building are set to enhance the region’s economy, as they aim to generate over 250 employment opportunities while providing a platform to elevate tourism and business opportunities.

Crichton Hall on Glencaple Road opened in 1839 to become a world-renowned health facility, and most recently has been serving as the headquarters for the NHS Board, with office space for administrative functions.

The building extends to 184,000 sq ft in mature grounds of 12 acres, set within larger grounds of some 85 acres.

Work is expected to begin shortly on turning the building into a five star hotel and spa, with its new owners keen to ensure a strong connection with the local community.

A close association has already been established with the nearby Dumfries and Galloway College to provide tailored vocational training in the hospitality sector.

Meanwhile, an agreement in principal is already in place for Crichton Royal Bowling Club to continue to make use of the bowling green which sits within the grounds of Crichton Hall.

Statement from Mr and Mrs J Clark:

 

“When we visited Crichton Hall and reviewed the full scope of opportunity during the sale process, we could not help but be engrossed by the many benefits a destination hotel and spa would bring to the Dumfries and Galloway region.

“Whilst we totally recognised the challenges we would face delivering a destination hotel, we could equally identify how our knowledge, experience and approach to historic building restorations could create another five star hotel and spa equalling Fonab Castle Hotel’s breathtaking experience.

“Communities are at the heart of what we develop, and it was clear to see what our investment and strategy would do for the people of Dumfries and Galloway. 

“At Fonab Castle Hotel we take our business very seriously and look forward with great excitement to working with the region during the pre and post stages of the development.

“Since we opened Fonab Castle Hotel in Pitlochry during the summer of 2013, we have seen year-on-year growth - the profits of which have been totally re-invested back into the business which have not only seen the hotel and spa benefit hugely from this but have also provided an additional £4.5 million of trade into Pitlochry town itself.”

 

Statement from NHS Dumfries and Galloway Chief Executive Jeff Ace:

 

“We are very pleased to see Crichton Hall move into the hands of people with such positive plans for its future. This building has served NHS Dumfries and Galloway extremely well over many years, but it is also a very important part of the region’s architectural and cultural heritage. When we first made plans to sell the building it was very important to us that this was recognised and respected, and that the site was properly cared for, with the hope that it could be developed to its fullest potential. I believe that Mr and Mrs Clark’s plans for Crichton Hall exceed those ambitions.

“Our staff will be sad to leave Crichton Hall. However, many will remain nearby at Mountainhall Treatment Centre as part of our well-advanced plans to relocate by the end of February. Crichton Hall is a very important site, and it will be great to witness it move into the next stage of its role as a real asset for the region.”

SOUTH SCOTLAND MSP ENCOURAGES LOCAL PEOPLE AND ORGANISATIONS TO HAVE SAY ON NEW ENTERPRISE AGENCY

South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth is urging local people and organisations to have their say on legislation to establish a new South of Scotland Enterprise Agency.

The local MSP's comments come as the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee prepares to visit Dumfries and Galashiels to hold engagement events as part of the Committee’s consideration of the South of Scotland Enterprise Bill.

The call for written submissions to the committee regarding the Bill closes today, but local MSP Colin Smyth, who is the only MSP representing the South of Scotland who sits on the committee, is urging local people to turn up at the Committee’s visits to the area later this month or continue to submit views direct to him.

Colin Smyth said, “I’m pleased our committee is coming to both Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders to discuss the bill in the community that will ultimately be affected by the South of Scotland Enterprise Agency. I would urge everyone with an interest in the Agency to come along to meetings in Dumfries and Galashiels and let the Committee know what they think. It is a chance for local businesses, community organisations, the local councils and the public to ask questions and to offer their opinions on the legislation, which will set up the new Agency.  As we will holding a formal Parliamentary Committee meeting as part of the visits, it is also a unique chance for people to see at first hand the work of the Parliament without the need to travel to Edinburgh.

“Obviously, it’s not possible for the committee to visit every part of the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway so I’ll also be holding local discussion across the area to hear the views of the community as the bill progresses through Parliament”.

“As the only MSP who actually represents the South of Scotland who sits on the committee, I am determined to ensure that the new Agency is shaped by the people it will affect most. It is vital that the Agency is rooted in the South of Scotland and has the local membership, budget and powers needed to deliver the real change our local economy needs”.  

PLAN TO END SINGLE OCCUPANCY WATER DISCOUNT WILL AFFECT ALMOST 25,000 PEOPLE IN DUMFRIES AND GALLOWAY

South Scotland Labour MSP Colin Smyth has said that the SNP Scottish Government’s plan to cut the 25% single occupancy water discount will affect almost 25,000 people in Dumfries and Galloway.

Analysis by the Scottish Labour Party shows that 24,766 people living in Dumfries and Galloway would be hit by the planned changed, which has been put out to consultation by SNP Ministers. Many of those worst hit would include pensioners and single mothers who are already struggling.

If the discount were to be scrapped altogether it would mean that single occupant households on Council Tax Band D in Dumfries and Galloway would see their water charges sore from £328.05 to £437.40, an increase of over £100.

A consultation on the proposals by the SNP Government closed on 28 September 2018 and Ministers are now considering the responses.

Colin Smyth has signed a motion put forward to the Scottish Parliament against the proposal.

Colin Smyth MSP said, “The proposed plan to end the single occupancy discount for water charges would see almost 25,000 people, living alone in Dumfries and Galloway being forced to pay an extra £100 a year for water charges. Many people who live alone in our region are elderly or single parents and can be at greater risk of poverty".

“ For the overwhelming majority who receive a discount for their water charges, it is worth 25 per cent of the total bill. That’s a lot of money that the SNP Government are proposing to take away from single people, many of them pensioners, on fixed incomes".

“Hiking up the water charges for people living alone by over £100 would be an attack on single, older people – who may be living alone because they are widowed – and on single parents who struggle to manage bringing up children on one income".

“A lot of people will be worried that if the SNP Government press ahead with plans to scrap the single person’s discount for water charges, then they will do the same for Council Tax2.

“The SNP Government should not be penalising people for living alone and should take this proposed change off the table immediately to protect the incomes of single occupant households across our region”.