A ten year action plan for the Borders economy is two years in and Scottish Borders Council’s economic development committee assessed progress when they met last week.
The council’s chief economic development officer, Bryan McGrath, told councillors that the goal for the region’s ten year plan is for the region to be “amongst the best performing and most productive rural economies in Scotland, making it a location of choice for growing businesses and for people to live and work”.
Progress has been made in some areas - the role-out of superfast broadband, the Borders Railway and completion of employment sites at Lauder and Duns.
Low pay continues to dog the region and people working in the Borders are still only getting 88% of the Scottish average wage - missing the action plan target. If you factor in the Borders residents who commute to work outside the region for better paid jobs, however, that figure rises to 95%.
Unemployment rates in the region may be low but for the 18-24 year olds job opportunities remain limited, and 10.5% of young people have low or no qualifications.
Recognising that more focus and effort needs to go into developing the region’s young workforce SBC plans to develop a programme of action to prepare school leavers for work, and in particular improves access to learning and skills opportunities for young people in the Eyemouth/East Berwickshire area.
Attracting new businesses to start up and thrive in the area is crucial and SBC’s figures give a clear message that those businesses seeking advice and guidance from Business Gateway are far more likely to still be in business after three years.
A year after starting up new businesses who took advice from Business Gateway had a 96% survival rate (65% after three years) which compares well with national figures of 78% and 36%. Despite this, however, the overall three year business survival rate for the region is well under target of a 68% survival rate at 58.7%.
While Business Gateway has been able to help new businesses the number of empty shops in the region is proving a bigger challenge - some areas suffering more than others.
Again the target was missed and the overall vacancy rate is higher than hoped for - Galashiels, Selkirk, Chirnside and Newtown St Boswells proving most challenging with vacancy rates of 15%, while Earlston, Melrose, Tweedbank and West Linton have no vacant units.