Key economic issues in the south of Scotland were top of the agenda with members of the South of Scotland Alliance who met Deputy First Minister John Swinney.
The future of agriculture policy and rural development funding in light of Brexit and the demographic (age and population) and transport challenges were all discussed.
Councillor Mark Rowley, Scottish Borders Council’s executive member for business and economic development, said: “The outward migration of our younger population is a challenge for the south of Scotland now, and will becoming increasingly so if change does not happen soon. There is confidence that the South of Scotland Enterprise and a Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal will help address not only outward-migration of our young people but also support and encourage inward investment, bringing jobs for local people and others.”
“We want this area to thrive, and to do so we need to create more opportunities for learning at the highest level; make the region more attractive for younger people to stay, or return after studying; and support the creation of more jobs, particularly those of higher quality and pay.”
The Alliance also discussed road, rail and public transport concerns, and opportunities, with Mr Swinney at the productive meeting.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “This meeting was a welcome opportunity to meet the South of Scotland Alliance to discuss shared concerns over the risks and threats presented by Brexit. The Scottish Government is working hard to ensure the rural economy is supported and prepared for the challenges ahead but greater clarity is needed from the UK Government.
“We remain deeply frustrated about the lack of any certainty over future funding arrangements for investment in our communities and businesses and the impact this could have across the south of Scotland. Whilst the UK Government has committed to establishing a Shared Prosperity Fund to replace EU funding, it is disappointing that after almost two years we are no nearer to knowing anything about the UK Government’s proposals.
“A hard or no deal Brexit could also have catastrophic impacts on our farming and food production industry with more than 9,000 non-UK seasonal migrant workers employed in farming and food production, including the dairy sector in the south west.
“Scotland benefits significantly from the contribution of people who choose to live, work and study here, and they are crucial to Scotland’s future economic growth. However the UK Government’s approach to Brexit and migration in general threatens Scotland’s future prosperity and the wellbeing of communities in Dumfries and Galloway and Scottish Borders.
“The evidence is clear - current UK Government immigration policy is harmful to Scotland’s interests. We need a tailored approach to migration, with more powers for Scottish Ministers, accountable to the Scottish Parliament, to develop sustainable solutions for Scotland which meet the needs of all sectors of our economy, including food & drink, hospitality, tourism, and public services.”