Scottish Borders Council’s administration is demanding answers from UK Prime Minister Theresa May about the uncertain future the region faces following Britain’s exit from the European Union.
The Borders, in line with every council area in Scotland voted to stay in the EU in June’s referendum, but the majority view across the UK was in favour of leaving, and council leaders want to know what impact that decision will have on the region.
EU funding, the specific needs of the region, access to markets and the position of European nationals living in the Borders are the main issues addressed by the letter, with council leader David Parker also inviting Mrs May to visit the region to discuss their concerns.
Leaderdale and Melrose councillor Mr Parker said: “Scottish Borders Council’s administration respects the decision made by UK voters to leave the EU.
“However, there are very real challenges facing the Borders as a result of the vote, and there remain a number of unanswered questions.
The council’s letter to Mrs May says: “We recognise that the Scottish Borders has benefited significantly from the UK’s membership of the EU.
“The Scottish Borders has consistently had a lower gross valued added (GVA) per head compared to Scotland and the UK. In 2014, the GVA per head for the Scottish Borders was £17,180, compared to £23,102 for Scotland and £24,958 for the UK. This reflects the nature of our sparsely-populated region and its rural economy.
“Moreover, the traditional role of the Scottish Borders as a centre for textiles has been diminished by globalisation and the removal of production overseas.
“We are working to diversify the business base in the area, but another challenge we face is that we still have relatively less activity in growth sectors such as information technology and life sciences.
“As a large rural area, the Scottish Borders currently receives a significant amount of European funding, primarily through the common agriculture policy, over £61.5m. This is absolutely crucial funding for the agricultural sector and very significant for our economy.
“Between 2014 and 2020, the area is due to receive Leader rural development funding of over £4m, fishing communities’ monies of over £450,000, European Regional Development Fund assistance of £500,000 and European social funding of up to £1.5m.
“We believe that it is crucial that a new national regional policy approach is introduced to replace the de facto regional policy that the EU structural and investment funds represented.
“Within the Scottish Borders, there are a significant number of businesses employing large numbers of people with a high dependency on exports with the rest of the world, including Europe.”
“They are very dependent on continued access to the single European market.
“However, there is also recognition that it is not only EU markets, but other global markets as well, that are affected by the exit from the EU.
“We need to maximise trade opportunities globally, not just with the EU, so it is crucial that negotiations within key global markets are quickly initiated.
“Finally, there are an estimated 3,500 EU nationals working and living in the Borders. They make a vital contribution to the local economy and our communities, and this needs to be recognised.
“We wish to continue being an open and welcoming region which is able to welcome EU nationals, and nationals from other parts of the globe.”
Borders MP Calum Kerr has given his support to Scottish Borders Council’s call for Theresa May to address the concerns facing the region in the wake of the EU referendum result.
The MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk welcomed the detailed letter from Scottish Borders Council leader David Parker, saying: “I fully support these calls for comprehensive answers on how Brexit will impact on our region.
“We now need a clear response from the Prime Minister in order to ensure the sustainability of our regional economy and to provide the confidence required for future economic development.
“When we consider in full the impact that European funding has had, there is a clear need for the UK Government to offer unequivocal safeguards in areas that have been underpinned by our membership of the EU, such as agriculture and regional development.”
“There are countless examples of Europe playing a positive role in the Borders.
“In fact, the more we look at the role of the EU in detail, the more apparent the benefits and opportunities that we risk losing become.
“Whether it’s the status of EU nationals who call the Borders home, the ability of local businesses to access to the single market, or our specific needs as a rural region, a great deal of uncertainty has emerged after the Brexit vote. The failure of this Tory government to offer reassurances on areas of such enormous significance is unacceptable.
“I’ll be working in Parliament to hold the UK government to account on these issues and to ensure our voice as a region is heard in Westminster.”