FIGUREs released last week reveal that unemployment in the Borders has surged by nearly 10 per cent in the last year, while job vacancies have plummeted.
The latest statistics from Skills Development Scotland, released by Scottish Borders Council’s economic development department, confirm that in October, 2,052 Borderers were claiming Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) – up from 1,881 in the corresponding month last year.
Job vacancies notified to Jobcentre Plus slumped from 791 in October last year to just 439 last month – meaning there are more than four people for each job.
The October figures are slightly more promising than the picture in September when there were 2,203 JSA claimants (up 238 on last year) and 252 vacancies (down by 551) - with cleaners and domestics in the most wanted category.
Vicky Davidson, SBC’s executive member for education, admitted the trends were “worrying”, particularly for the young, unskilled jobless, and highlighted the impact on inward investment since the demise of Scottish Enterprise Borders (SEB).
“SEB had a budget of around £11million to spend in the Borders, which dropped down to around £5million for the whole of the south of Scotland after Scottish Enterprise re-organisation,” said Councillor Davidson. “This was a massive blow in financial terms to lose that investment.
“The council has been proactive over the last few years, helping businesses with new premises, small grants and training, and redoubling our efforts to attract companies here.
“Unfortunately, with the funds available we cannot match the sums that were available only a few years ago through the enterprise company.
“We know there are Borders companies out there who are really struggling and I wish we had more ways in which we could help them in these very difficult times.”
Meanwhile, a committee of MSPs heard last week that the ability of SBC to embark on job-creating capital projects could be compromised by the freeze on council tax.
In her role as SBC’s acting chief executive, Tracey Logan, whose appointment to the top job was confirmed last week, told the all-party local government and regeneration committee the ongoing freeze could affect the credit rating of her council.
“The inability to vary income through tax-raising powers at a time when councils are facing pressure through long-term contractual commitments [such as the public private partnership schools] and a squeeze on capital may cause concerns to lending institutions with a consequent impact on borrowing costs,” said Ms Logan.
She said SBC’s capital budget had declined from £30million in 2006/07 to a projected £17million in 2014/15 onwards.
Commenting on the Scottish Government’s three-year spending programme in which a council tax freeze is explicit, Ms Logan said SBC had to evaluate the impact of the change in the profile of capital to support investment whenever possible.
“We are keen to secure continued investment in public sector infrastructure to support the local economy, but there is a strict set of criteria establishing whether a project is included … inevitably leading to a number of valid and necessary projects not ‘making the cut’.
“There is concern that, over the medium to long term, this will have a serious impact on the region’s infrastructure.”