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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 05 June 2019

Agenda: Sustainable Aquaculture, Portfolio Question Time, Business Motion, South of Scotland Enterprise Bill: Stage 3, South of Scotland Enterprise Bill, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Child Safety Week 2019


Contents


South of Scotland Enterprise Bill

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-17517, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on the South of Scotland Enterprise Bill at stage 3.

16:18  

The Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy (Fergus Ewing)

I am pleased to open the stage 3 debate on the South of Scotland Enterprise Bill.

The Presiding Officer

One second, cabinet secretary. I ask members to keep the conversations down—a debate is going on.

Fergus Ewing

This is a momentous day for the south of Scotland, which will usher in a new era for Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders—an era in which the area has its own enterprise agency that is able to respond to the different and distinct rural economy, to drive inclusive and sustainable growth to benefit its communities and to meet the needs and interests of alI who live there.

We all recognise the untapped potential of the south of Scotland. It has real strengths in traditional sectors such as farming, forestry, fishing and textiles; it has developed sectors such as food and drink, tourism and creative industries; and it has the opportunity to contribute to the industries of the future, not least in the low-carbon economy. It has a wealth of natural resources ready to contribute to the area’s sustainable economic growth.

It also has a wealth of people resources, ambitious for their area and entrepreneurial, with a sense of belonging and a lively culture and enjoying a great quality of life. It is no accident that John Buchan’s hero Richard Hannay sought sanctuary in the south of Scotland,

“in this blessed, honest-smelling hill country,”

where, he says,

“every mile put me in better humour with myself.”

However, we also all recognise that the region has challenges to overcome: low pay and low productivity; gaps in connectivity and infrastructure; and a declining and ageing population, with young people, sadly, not always seeing or finding reasons to stay.

With this legislation, we have sought to establish an agency to lead on addressing those challenges. The bill sets out the legislative basis for a new agency with the right powers to take forward the right activities. It provides us with an agency that will further the sustainable economic and social development of the south of Scotland and which will seek to improve the amenity and environment of the area. It is clearly accountable—to Government, to the Parliament and, importantly, locally. Further, of course, the legislation will now be an exemplar in delivering real progress on fair work practices. We set out to deliver a fresh and different approach, and we have done so.

Throughout this process, I have welcomed cross-party support for the bill’s proposals. Since the bill’s introduction in October, members have worked together to create legislation that provides a strong statutory framework for the new agency. The positive stage 1 debate confirmed MSPs’ support, and we have worked since then to build consensus where it matters.

I am grateful for the work of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee and for its careful scrutiny of the bill at stages 1 and 2. Its thoughtful stage 1 report reflected its evidence gathering and helped to inform amendments that I and others made at stage 2. I also welcome the consideration and input of the Finance and Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee.

Of course, passing the bill today is not the end of the story. The next chapter will focus on implementation. Work is already under way to translate law into an operational agency that is ready to start work on 1 April 2020. South of Scotland enterprise will be up and running in eight months’ time, signalling this Government’s intent to not only create an agency but deliver one. We want an agency with staff working across the region, delivering the activities that people want to see and that are set out in the bill.

Our next step is to appoint the agency’s chair, and that process is now under way. We will then move to appoint the agency’s members. We are determined to ensure that south of Scotland enterprise benefits from the right mix of skills and experiences. The amendments that have been made today will help to deliver that diversity. I hope that the south of Scotland’s MSPs will encourage people to apply.

With this legislation, we had the opportunity to be bold and ambitious, and we took it. It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a new enterprise agency—an agency that can transform the area’s economy by building on its strengths and traditions; an agency that creates opportunities for everyone; an agency that supports communities to thrive; and an agency that can make a real difference for individuals and businesses.

I, therefore, move,

That the Parliament agrees that the South of Scotland Enterprise Bill be passed.

16:23  

Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

The creation of a south of Scotland enterprise agency was a manifesto commitment of the Scottish Conservatives ahead of the 2016 election, and I believe that today represents a hugely welcome and exciting step forward in addressing the barriers to economic sustainability and economic growth in the communities that I represent in Galloway and West Dumfries, and in the wider south of Scotland region.

In living and running a business in Galloway for more than 35 years, I have always been aware of the unique nature of the economy in the south of Scotland. I have always recognised the significant challenges that my rural constituency faces. However, more importantly, I have always known of the significant opportunities that we have.

The Scottish Conservatives’ 2016 manifesto commitment recognised that the rural communities and businesses of the south of Scotland had unique economic needs that were similar to those in the Highlands and Islands. I welcome the fact that, now, the Government, the lead committee and, ultimately, the bill that is before us recognise and accept the unique challenges and opportunities that exist in the south of Scotland.

Today, in many ways, we are moving back to something similar to the old Dumfries and Galloway Enterprise model, but, this time, the model is much improved, with stronger local accountability and focus. As is the case with Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the new agency will place an emphasis on socioeconomic as well as simply economic development.

Despite its weaknesses, Dumfries and Galloway Enterprise helped to support and create businesses that are still thriving today. The south of Scotland enterprise agency can be a catalyst for economic growth and business creation once again, in a region that so badly needs it.

The Scottish Conservatives will support the bill at it stands at decision time. As the bill progressed through its committee stage, welcome measures strengthened it and its aims. Although there are many situations where Colin Smyth and I disagree, on this occasion, I welcomed his amendment that put a duty on the new body to facilitate co-operation with other relevant bodies. I am pleased that an amendment has gone through on that basis. In practice, it will ensure that the south of Scotland enterprise agency acts as a catalyst for future projects across the region, facilitating the co-operation and joint working with other bodies that will be key to its overall success. To give just a few examples, those bodies might be Transport Scotland, VisitScotland, Skills Development Scotland or the R100 delivery organisation that is yet to be announced. Throughout the consultation on the bill, there was a recognition that they should be the focus of projects that will boost local infrastructure.

I know from the petition on the A75 road upgrade that I have been running that infrastructure is an important topic, and that transport investment is important to my constituents. Although it would not be appropriate for the new body to fund any road-building infrastructure projects, it would absolutely be appropriate for it to be the overarching agency and the driving force behind necessary improvements, backed up by a close working relationship with the relevant body, which, in that case, would be Transport Scotland.

That type of facilitation could move us towards a more cost-effective and accountable system, where local residents and businesses know that there is an evidence-based plan of action to remove the barriers to economic sustainability. Such an action plan must recognise that the south of Scotland is ideally situated midway between Scotland’s central belt and the northern powerhouse across the border. It continues to be a source of great anger for me and my constituents that I have to do this but I will take the opportunity to once again remind the Government that Stranraer—and its ports at Cairnryan—is one of the most important gateways into Scotland, and that the lack of appropriate investment in the A75 and A77 should be a source of extreme embarrassment to this Government. I hope that the new agency can assist the Government in making the right road-infrastructure decisions in the very near future.

During the consultation period on the agency, I received many comments that the engagement process must be straightforward and transparent, particularly for those who are pitching new projects. The south of Scotland enterprise agency should act as a one-stop shop and avoid what many individuals and businesses have had to go through in the past, where they have been pushed from pillar to post and have had to jump through many different hoops when it has come to funding applications.

Maureen Watt’s amendment at stage 2 was welcome as it ensured that the new agency will be transparent and accountable to local people. I welcome the fact that that amendment will see the agency launch a consultation on its action plan. We also supported Colin Smyth’s amendment on the consultation action plan that will be undertaken by the new agency. Although it is right that the agency should seek the views of local bodies, including local authorities, I stress that councils should not be in a position to in any way veto, disproportionately influence or, indeed, delay the agency in carrying out its functions. In making its plan publicly available after consultation, the enterprise agency will fulfil a duty to the people of the south of Scotland, who have made it clear that they must play a part in the decision-making process. In addition, the requirement for a review after five years gives confidence that there will be regular checks on how the agency plans to deliver on the aspirations that we have today.

During the 2016 election, as well as standing on a manifesto that committed to the creation of a south of Scotland enterprise agency, I also stood on the platform of opposing further centralisation by the Scottish Government. That is why I welcome the fact that the bill has been strengthened, and that Scottish ministers will need to consult the enterprise agency and provide reasons before changing directives or offering new directives.

For far too long, the south of Scotland has suffered from a lack of focus and investment, which has resulted in many people—in particular young people—moving away, and potential investors being put off by the lack of adequate infrastructure. I hope that this afternoon, Wednesday 5 June 2019, heralds the dawn of a new era for the south of Scotland, in which the local people of Dumfries and Galloway and the south of Scotland will start to have the equity of access to tools and funding that has been so lacking in the past, and in which the true contribution that the people of the south of Scotland can make to the rest of the UK and beyond will start to be realised.

As the MSP for Galloway and West Dumfries, I am confident that this is the first step in unlocking the massive untapped potential that the natural resources, and the people and their skills, have to offer, and I look forward to seeing that on the ground. This region will be not only the most beautiful place to do business but the best.

16:29  

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

Having campaigned for better support for the south of Scotland economy for 10 years, I welcome the fact that we will soon move from the establishment of a south of Scotland enterprise agency being an issue for debate in the Parliament to its being a reality for communities across the south of Scotland.

It is important not to lose sight of why such an agency is needed. I stood to be a member of the Scottish Parliament in 2016 because, as a local councillor who chaired the economy committee and the south of Scotland alliance, I saw every day that too many of the big economic challenges that the area faced were simply not being addressed. There is the scandal of low pay, with average earnings in Dumfries and Galloway being £11.52 per hour compared with a national average of £14.30—that makes the region the lowest paid in Scotland. There is the skills shortage: more than a quarter of the population of the south of Scotland are graduates, whereas the national figure is more than a third. There are also the low levels of productivity and growth. Gross value added per person in Dumfries and Galloway is 21 per cent lower than the national average; in the Borders, the figure is 26 per cent lower than the national average.

It is not just that those challenges were not being properly tackled; the opportunities for the area and its strengths and huge potential were not being fulfilled.

The south of Scotland is an area of outstanding natural beauty, with a history and a cultural heritage that are second to none, but in many ways our tourism potential is still untapped. There are sectors in our region—forestry, energy, arts and culture, and many others—that have a reputation for excellence, but there needs to be more focus from our economic agencies on delivering the inclusive sustainable growth that our region needs from those sectors.

We have a strong small and medium-sized business base that provides many opportunities to grow and create jobs—with the right level of support. The current economic agency model has simply not delivered that support for the region. We have a vibrant and ambitious social enterprise base that is already making a difference to communities, but it is desperate to do more and to access the same support that is offered to other businesses to help to achieve that growth. We also have excellent local colleges and a university campus with the potential to expand so that they can deliver more of the skills that our communities need.

Our location means that parts of the south of Scotland are just two hours’ travel from 14 million people—the 14 million potential customers in the central belt and the north of England.

Crucially, the people of the south of Scotland have a real community spirit, and a desire and determination to make the south of Scotland better. That determination is the reason why there is such strong support for the establishment of the new agency and the reason why the people of the south of Scotland now want to get on with making the agency a reality.

On behalf of my constituents, I place on record my thanks to everyone who has delivered the bill to pave the way for the agency. That includes the cabinet secretary for taking the bill through Parliament and for the strong interest that he has taken in the south of Scotland economy. While he picks himself up off the floor, I will caveat that by giving particular thanks to the south of Scotland economic development team, led by Karen Jackson, who have supported the cabinet secretary’s work.

I would, of course, like to have seen the bill go further: on co-operation between agencies; on more local accountability; on tackling poverty; on improving housing; and on trade union representation—and, obviously, on using the word “and” instead of “or”. However, I am pleased to have made some changes to the bill to strengthen the aims of the agency through including, for example, support for social enterprises, helping to take forward the fair work agenda and, crucially, putting in place local consultation on the agency’s action plan to ensure that the agency is rooted in the south of Scotland. I appreciate that the Government has often had to move its position to ensure that those changes happen.

The people who deserve most praise are the people of the south of Scotland, who have campaigned long and hard for the new agency and who will take it forward. I have the privilege of living in Dumfries and Galloway in the south of Scotland and I am a proud Doonhamer, but it breaks my heart to see so many young people leaving the region not through choice but because of the lack of high-skilled, well-paid jobs or the range of further and higher education opportunities to deliver the skills that they want and which our economy needs. If we look back in 10 years’ time and see so many young people still being forced to turn their back on the south of Scotland, we will have failed.

It is now up to all of us to get behind and support the bill and make the new agency a success in delivering the strong and vibrant local economy that I know the south of Scotland can have.

16:34  

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

It has been a real pleasure to have been involved with the bill. A number of people—the clerks, as ever, the witnesses and the people and representatives of the south of Scotland—need to be thanked for that. Elected representatives from the south of Scotland visited our committee on a number of occasions, of course, and there is no doubting the enthusiasm and energy that they brought and the additional contribution that they made.

Like others, I thank the cabinet secretary for the role that he has played in bringing people together. Those who were sitting in the public gallery half an hour ago might have thought that the process was not very conciliatory, but making legislation is based on debating issues—sometimes in a very heated manner. I think that we have come up with a good bill, but the proof of the pudding will be seen, as my colleague Colin Smyth said, in years to come. There has been a consensual approach.

Many members have talked about manifesto commitments, and my party—the Scottish Green Party—also had the creation of such an agency as a manifesto commitment.

Comparisons have been made with the Highlands and Islands on a number of occasions, but I do not think that we can always make direct comparisons. There is much to be learned—good and bad—from the experience in the Highlands and Islands. After the second world war, the Highlands were shaped by the hydro schemes, which were introduced by the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Tom Johnston. Subsequently, the Highlands and Islands Development Board was established. As humans, we can be very cynical and we tend to reflect on the negatives rather than the positives, but an awful lot of positives came from that work. The new iteration is Highlands and Islands Enterprise, albeit that it has a slightly changed focus.

Partnership is always important. Throughout the bill process, we have discussed the role that the agency can play in galvanising support and bringing people together on the common objective of making the lives of people in the south of Scotland better. As someone who is enthusiastic about the role that the state can play, I hope that people will reflect on the enthusiasm for the new agency and that they will not be so scared of state involvement. Partnership with communities is very important.

Funding has been mentioned. There was never going to be a like-for-like comparison between the south and the Highlands. As a member for the Highlands and Islands region, I have been keen to stress that this should not be about having a competition between north and south; it should be about making things better for the south. As others have said, a gauge of success will be not only retaining the existing population—there is no doubt that better education facilities and an increase in the availability of skills, leading to increased wages will help in that regard—but growing the population.

It was not that the issue had been forgotten about, but, having heard the views of Dr Calum Macleod of Community Land Scotland that part of the new agency’s remit should be to establish “a community assets team”, I was pleased to have a part in ensuring that the bill says that. In the years to come, people will appreciate that such a team has brought people together.

The engagement started long before we began work on the bill. As has been said, the process has had a long genesis, and it is important to congratulate Professor Griggs and the south of Scotland economic partnership.

Co-location will be crucial as the agency moves forward, because there is no doubt that relationships are improved if we can see the whites of people’s eyes.

My colleague Colin Smyth made an important point—this is something that we can learn from the Highlands—about it being very easy to create a three-figure number of jobs in an urban area and to laud that, but having a small number of jobs in a rural area is also important, if it means that the rural school can be retained along with everything else that goes with such jobs.

I look forward to the success of the new agency.

16:38  

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

The Liberal Democrats fully support the South of Scotland Enterprise Bill, which is the kind of legislation that can really benefit the people of the south of Scotland. It is about supporting the environment and, at the same time, supporting inclusive and sustainable economic growth. It is about increasing the number of residents who are of working age, enhancing skills and capacities that are relevant to employment, encouraging business start-ups and entrepreneurship, and promoting improved transport services. However, most important, it is about supporting communities to help them meet the needs that they have identified.

I am particularly pleased that members of the committee worked well together to improve the bill—people who heard the exchanges on some of today’s amendments might not think so, but we did—as a result of engaging with people in the south of Scotland. In particular, the committee’s formal meeting in Dumfries and our meeting in Galashiels were excellent.

I want to put on record that the cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing has clearly and demonstrably worked hard to ensure that we get the bill right. He was willing to listen to the evidence, he responded extremely well to the committee’s stage 1 report—which, I have to say, has not always been my experience of ministerial responses to such reports—and he lodged very constructive amendments at stage 2. He has done the same thing today at stage 3. If I may say so—and I do not think that I am betraying any confidences here—his work with MSPs of all parties between each stage of the process has been welcome.

I reiterate that the bill should enable us to achieve real change in the south of Scotland. However, it is only a start. In fact, after working so long on it in committee, I have to say that I have mixed feelings about it. If I think that we have got it right, why do I have such feelings? Because I am an MSP from the north-east, and I would like a similar bill for my constituents. The cabinet secretary’s deputy, who is sitting beside him, is a north-east MSP, too, and I hope that the two of them are having a conversation about the issue right now and that they turn their heads towards the north-east in future. That would be a really first-class idea.

Maureen Watt (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

As the member would realise if he came to some of the events in the north-east, the national health service and Scottish Enterprise in Grampian have been very fortunate in having Opportunity North East—or ONE—work on enterprise in the north-east. In fact, it has almost doubled the funding available.

Mike Rumbles

There were already organisations in the south of Scotland that had the same purpose. I would have thought that the member, who is a member of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, would have realised that. What I am saying is that what we have done for the south of Scotland we could do for the north-east.

Following on from that very positive intervention, I am pleased to say that this is a good bill. As I know that time is short, I will finish by saying that the cabinet secretary deserves recognition for his work in delivering it.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

I thank everyone for the brevity of their speeches. It has allowed us to make up time.

We now move to the open debate, in which there is one speaker.

16:42  

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I am extremely pleased to speak in favour of the South of Scotland Enterprise Bill. The bill, which I have engaged with at stage 1 and throughout the parliamentary process, will undoubtedly benefit the south of Scotland by supporting communities, businesses—including our small businesses and microbusinesses—and people across the south, and by developing, supporting and continuing the process of empowerment in order to deliver the transformational economic and cultural change that will be key to the region’s success.

I have had the privilege of working with the people who have been involved in the interim body, SOSEP—the south of Scotland economic partnership. Indeed, I have been able to work closely and collaboratively with many people, including Professor Russel Griggs, Rob Dickson, Dame Barbara Kelly, Amanda Burgauer, Lorna Young, Aylett Roan and others, all of whom I regularly engage with to discuss issues from across South Scotland. From the outset, I want to thank all those who have been involved for their work, which has allowed us to take a fresh approach to promoting sustainable economic growth in the south-west and across the rest of the south of Scotland.

I also thank everyone who has provided a briefing for the debate today, and the clerks, who have, as always, worked extremely competently to get us to this stage.

On 14 January, I attended the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s informal workshop and formal committee meeting at Easterbrook hall in Dumfries. The meeting, which was attended by more than 120 people from a range of community groups, local authorities and businesses from across the south-west of Scotland, provided the opportunity for local voices to feed into the committee’s work and, ultimately, its report. People said what they felt had to be done in order to provide benefit and to address the unique challenges of the south-west of Scotland. In doing so, they were able to inform the members of the committee. Such stakeholder engagement meetings have been key to informing the bill’s approach and content, so I thank the Scottish Government and the REC Committee for their level of engagement with the people who will be directly impacted by the bill.

It is vital that the new south of Scotland enterprise agency takes a fresh and tailored approach to supporting the south of Scotland’s economy. The area, particularly the south-west including Dumfries and Galloway, has a different and distinct rural economy with wide-ranging and significant opportunities, as well as its fair share of challenges, including an ageing population, the need for private sector investment and the need for a good standard of transport infrastructure. Our roads have been mentioned already: I agree with Finlay Carson that we need to focus not only on our rail infrastructure, but on our roads, including the A75, the A76 and the A77.

The Borders has a train line that connects its communities to Edinburgh and the central belt, but people in Galloway and areas between Dumfries and Stranraer do not have that ease of connectivity to the central belt and the wider regions. I am therefore pleased that the bill is intentionally high level and enabling. It aims to provide the south of Scotland enterprise agency with the powers that are necessary for it to achieve its strategic aims flexibly and responsively.

However, I make a plea to the people who will be involved—including the chair, when appointed—to ensure that the agency is not Borders-centric, and that Dumfries and Galloway and the south-west are considered equally. That aim will be aided by the location of the agency, which will have a headquarters hub and will operate not just in one area, but throughout the south, which is crucial due to the region’s rural geography. John Finnie has already mentioned the importance of co-location. I will be making representations for the hub to be located centrally—perhaps in Dumfries, itself.

I am pleased that the bill makes clear the Government’s commitment to ensuring that the new agency receives a fair budget and that it is funded on a per capita equivalent basis to Highlands and Island Enterprise.

I, again, put on record my support for the creation of this much-needed agency in the south of Scotland. It has been a long time coming. I look forward to continuing to work with all involved, to ensure that it delivers for my constituents, particularly across the south-west and the rest of South Scotland, and to ensure that they are collaborated with and not forgotten.

I encourage all members to support the bill at decision time.

16:46  

Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

I, too, welcome the bill. I acknowledge the cabinet secretary’s work on the bill. I particularly thank my fellow South Scotland region colleague and friend Colin Smyth and the other South Scotland MSPs for their input to and scrutiny of the bill, in addition to what was done by the committee.

As Scottish Labour’s spokesperson on land reform, I particularly welcome the amendments that were lodged by Gail Ross and John Finnie and agreed to at stage 2, which will empower communities and give the new enterprise agency a similar social remit and land ownership remit to Highlands and Island Enterprise, which has been so successful in supporting and enabling communities by placing the sustainability of their economic future in their own hands. The amendments are very important in respect of empowering communities to take ownership of local land and building assets. As was discussed at stage 2, that has been a success of HIE, so I am encouraged that the new agency will have a similar social remit.

I strongly support the bill, and I am excited about seeing the positive effects that the agency will bring to communities in South Scotland, especially in relation to retaining young people in the region. However, I have a continuing concern that I feel strongly about: where the bill will deliver for people who live within the agency’s boundaries starkly highlights the lack of support for the communities that it will not reach.

Recent assurances from Scottish Enterprise have not gone far enough. Some of my constituents in Clydesdale and South Ayrshire are concerned and disappointed by what they believe to be a failure of the Government to provide them with a similar opportunity. What reassurance can the cabinet secretary give to my constituents? What specific actions will he take to support Clydesdale? Clydesdale is part of the South Scotland region that I represent, and it looks far more to the south than it does to Glasgow. I worry about the supposed reassurance that was given by Scottish Enterprise in a recent letter to me. It stated:

“a series of regional economic partnerships have been formed across much of Scotland with Clydesdale covered by the Glasgow City region”.

I have seen no evidence of focus on the sustainable development of Clydesdale in the Glasgow city region deal. What can the cabinet secretary do to address those concerns quickly? They are surely well beyond being operational matters.

On a more positive note, Transport Scotland has written to me highlighting that the second strategic transport projects review will

“take account of the priorities emerging from the new National Transport Strategy and support government policies including those on climate change and tackling inequality.”

I hope that it will also include rurality.

I am delighted that the bill was amended at stage 2, following amendments that were lodged by Colin Smyth, to include environmental policies that recognise the need to support the shift to a net zero emissions economy. It is necessary, in the context of the current climate emergency, that the bill reflects that.

However, I am disappointed that the cabinet secretary did not recognise the significance of my amendment 13, which would have included in the bill a provision on support for co-operation for environmental reasons, given that we face an environment and climate emergency. I hope that he will ensure that such issues are dealt with in regulation.

I welcome the South of Scotland Enterprise Bill, and I look forward to its being passed and to working with all those who are involved in sustainable development across the region.

16:50  

Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

I refer members to my entry in the register of interests.

Today, Conservative members will vote to pass the bill and let the proposed agency become a reality. The new south of Scotland enterprise agency holds the key to unlocking significant potential right across our region, and I look forward to the renewed economic drive that I hope it will deliver.

The new agency should be an enabler, not a disabler. It must be dynamic and it must suit the needs of the south of Scotland. Many members have said that it is based on the Highlands and Islands Enterprise model, but our area is distinctive and different from the Highlands, so a bespoke approach that is shaped by people who have a passion for the south of Scotland must shine through in what SOSE does.

It is unfortunate that Colin Smyth’s amendment 2, which included support for rural businesses, was not agreed to, because such support is crucial in our large rural region. Removing barriers is the key to achieving accessible funding. I want the agency to make obtaining support a lot simpler, and to have a focus on rurality.

As the shadow culture secretary, I was pleased that Joan McAlpine’s amendment 11 on cultural assets, which I supported, was agreed to. Given our unique culture, history and heritage, we need to attract more tourists to the south of Scotland. Initiatives such as the #seesouth campaign must be built on and expanded.

We were disappointed that amendment 10, on affordable housing, was not agreed to, because the issue is crucial to the south of Scotland’s economy. A lack of affordable housing could be considered to be a barrier to retaining young people and to encouraging economic growth. A key aim of SOSE is to deliver construction skills, so a focus on affordable housing could have played a key role in meeting that aim.

I recognise that the new agency will not solve all the problems, but it will go some way by improving support for start-ups, and it will encourage a supportive business atmosphere. For years, we have had low-wage, low-hours jobs, a gender pay gap and a skills shortage. Those issues are not unique to the Borders, but they are definitely exacerbated by the rurality of the area and its poor connectivity—physically and digitally.

As I have suggested, skills development is essential for retaining young people and for upskilling working-age people, given the south of Scotland’s ageing demographic. We must have an agency that works in partnership with the colleges, and which encourages knowledge exchange. That is why we supported Maureen Watt’s amendment 14, which brought in “persons”, as well as organisations. A greater range of society than just businesses must participate in achievement of the overall aims of the new agency and in economic growth.

Through SOSE, further education institutions must be supported to encourage rural skills. The Scottish Borders area is as rural as Dumfries and Galloway, so working in partnership will be absolutely key. In doing that, we must make it easy for people to access education by reducing transport difficulties. Making learning an out-of-class experience relies on good digital infrastructure: so far, we are lagging behind in that respect. The impact of such action could be significant in driving greater innovation in the economy, and in improving competitiveness in the workforce and productivity in business. Ultimately, that will lead to better sustainability for local businesses.

The gender pay gap is a massive issue, and I believe that it deserves the greatest attention. If we are to retain young people—especially young women—in the Borders and in Dumfries and Galloway, we need to ensure that that gap is closed. It would be fantastic if the new agency could support more women into the workforce and provide support for women to start up new businesses.

We will support the bill. I look forward to the agency being delivered.

16:54  

Fergus Ewing

The bill allows for an enterprise agency to be made of the south of Scotland, by the south of Scotland, for the south of Scotland.

I thank all those in the south of Scotland who contributed to the proceedings and the consultation for their positive engagement with the bill process. Their perspectives have helped to shape the legislation and will continue to shape the priorities of their enterprise agency.

I add my praise to the members of the south of Scotland economic partnership. During the past 18 months, their work has been unstinting in their local engagement and in the meetings that they have attended throughout the area. I have not seen anything like it, and I have been around for quite a long time.

Emma Harper mentioned some of the members of the partnership. I pay tribute to them, particularly the chair, Professor Russel Griggs, for their energy and commitment, which have given an element of excitement about the new opportunities that lie ahead. Their foundation work has paved the way for the new enterprise agency to flourish.

I also take this opportunity to thank the committee clerks for their work. As Finlay Carson said, the committee held meetings around the region. It did not just stay in Edinburgh to take evidence. It got out of here and went into the south of Scotland to meet and hear from and listen to people there. The committee is to be commended for that; it involves an awful lot of effort and hard work.

I also express my profound personal thanks to the members of the Scottish Government bill team. I was pleased to hear other members, including Colin Smyth, thank them as well, because we have worked together, and members across the chamber have seen just how significant and helpful the contribution of Government officials in the bill team has been. I thank them for their sterling work in drafting and shaping the bill, and for their willingness to find solutions, and, as Mr Rumbles pointed out, to respond positively to the views of members on the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee and from the south of Scotland. This has been a collegiate effort and I am pleased that Parliament has performed that role.

The bill fulfils a programme for government commitment to create a new enterprise agency for the south of Scotland. It was a key recommendation arising from the enterprise and skills review. I pay tribute to Keith Brown for his work thereanent and for shaping the bill content and establishing the partnership. Our collective efforts, including those of members from across the chamber, will ensure that the south of Scotland enterprise agency takes the different and fresh approach that people asked us for.

Rachael Hamilton quite rightly talked about the important work that is being done for women. She is absolutely right. I expect the women in agriculture development, for example, to be an early opportunity to build on that work.

The agency will be a keystone organisation, looking to bring together economic, social and environmental development to create jobs and prosperity for everyone who works there

Although we have had our differences this afternoon, I give my absolute assurance that the differences that we have discussed have been about process and not about substance. In response to questions raised by Finlay Carson, Claudia Beamish and Colin Smyth, I say yes, of course, the agency will take a close interest in furthering all the matters that have been referred to; yes, of course, it will seek to advance rural business; and yes, of course, it will take a deep, close and profound interest in pursuing the best environmental practice.

I specifically wanted to provide direct and positive responses to all members—you all know that I am, in fact, Mr Positive.

Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

Hear, hear!

Fergus Ewing

Thank you. It is quite remarkable that consensus has broken out in the chamber and I am touched by all the nice things that people have said, particularly Mr Rumbles. I have never said this before—

Graeme Dey (Angus South) (SNP)

You will never say it again.

Fergus Ewing

—and as Mr Dey has pointed out, I might never say it again, but all I can say is, “Aw, shucks!”

Today, we are tracing a foundation for a new chapter in the life of Scotland, and the south of Scotland in particular. When Willie Ross strove to establish a development board for the Highlands and Islands, he said:

“the Highlander has been the man on Scotland’s conscience”.—[Official Report, House of Commons, 16 March 1965; Vol 708, c 1095.]

For too long, the people of the south of Scotland have perceived themselves to be forgotten and neglected. We now have a chance to bring that to an end. In the words of one of the region’s greatest living sons, Calvin Harris—[Laughter.] Yes, I know him well; I know of him. In the words of Calvin Harris, I say to the people of the region:

“It’s not about what you’ve done ... It’s all about where you going ... Right now is where you shine”.