Potential activities for the South of Scotland Enterprise Agency
The online consultation outlined a range of activities in relation to the Agency's overall aims to drive the economy forward, to sustain and grow communities, and to capitalise on people and resources. Respondents were then asked what they think currently works well in the South of Scotland. In addition, respondents were asked what they would add or take away from the potential activities in relation to each of the overarching aims. Respondents were also asked what they would prioritise as the key areas of activity of the Agency and what specific things the Agency could do to help the respondents, their business, their sector or community. In the last two questions, respondents generally reiterated the points they had made to their answers on the Agency's activities. As such, the answers to these questions were not coded separately.
This chapter outlines respondents' perception of what currently works well in the South of Scotland, and their suggestions for the Agency's activities in relation to the three overall aims of the Agency.
5.1 What currently works well in the South of Scotland
Many respondents, and 1 out of 26 consultation events, discussed areas which they both felt currently work well and do not work well in the South of Scotland. Respondents pointed out the following areas as currently working well in the South of Scotland:
- Community sector: Respondents pointed out that the South of Scotland currently has a vibrant community sector that provides important services and activities in local communities. The important role that volunteers play was also pointed out. It was felt that the community sector ensures that many of South of Scotland's residents are active and engaged.
- Partnership working: Respondents suggested that the level of partnership working – between different governmental agencies, local and national organisations, the NHS or educational institutions with local authorities, and between the private, public and third sector – currently works well in the South of Scotland. It was suggested that the small population of the South of Scotland allows for close and meaningful networks to be developed.
- Support provided by different agencies: Respondents also identified a range of support services that are currently offered by different agencies as examples of what currently works well in the South of Scotland. The organisations cited by respondents included, amongst others, Business Gateway, the two local authorities, Creative Scotland, Visit Scotland and Scottish Enterprise.
- Local entrepreneurship: Respondents also identified the current level of entrepreneurship in the South of Scotland as an example of what is currently working well.
In addition, respondents also identifed areas that they felt were not currently working well. In addition to the range of economic challenges already described (see Section 4.2), respondents highlighted cuts to local services and a lack of support for local businesses as areas that are currently not working well.
5.2 Activities related to the aim of driving forward the economy
A large majority of respondents, and 25 out of 26 consultation events, outlined areas where they felt the Agency could help to drive forward the economy in the South of Scotland. These included:
- Attracting new sectors to the South of Scotland: Retail, creative, scientific, data and technology, manufacturing and digital were identified as sectors which could be attracted to the South of Scotland.
- Branding and marketing the South of Scotland: Respondents described a need to raise the profile and develop a brand identity for the South of Scotland to attract tourists and encourage people to live in the area. This would involve identifying and promoting the region's unique selling points. It was felt that marketing activity was necessary to promote the area and attract investment.
- Investment and infrastructure: It was felt that the Agency would need to increase investment (directly and through encouraging inward investment) and improve infrastructure to drive forward the economy. This includes investment in areas such as housing, rail, technology, digital connectivity and public transport.
- Tourism: Respondents described a need to focus on developing tourism in the area, including encouraging visitors to stop and spend time in the South of Scotland rather than passing through it, and increasing the length of stays in the area.
In addition it was felt that the Agency should support and work together with local businesses. In particular:
- It was felt that local businesses should have a say and be involved in key decisions and that the Agency should ensure good channels of communication exist with these groups.
- Various types of business support should be offered by the Agency including the provision of advice, business spaces or co-working hubs, as well as grants or loans.
- Many respondents described a need to help small businesses to grow or at least be sustainable.
- Entrepreneurship and start-up initiatives should be supported in an innovative culture.
- Businesses should benefit from improved digital connectivity and be helped to embrace digital technologies and opportunities.
5.3 Activities related to the aim of growing and sustaining communities
A majority of respondents, and 15 out of 26 consultation events, discussed activities relating to growing and sustaining communities. Several activities were identified which could be undertaken by the Agency including:
- Community capacity: It was felt that the Agency should help communities to grow their capacity, play a greater role in their area's development and be self-sustaining in the long term.
- Funding and support for community groups: Local clubs and associations were identified as important to communities and it was felt that attention should be paid to how they can be made more resilient. Grassroots organisations should be funded over longer periods to avoid yearly uncertainty about their viability.
- Investment in support services for communities: Respondents suggested that youth, mental health and drug and alcohol support workers should be funded. In addition, disability, elderly and healthcare services should be supported to help sustain and grow communities.
- Investment in town centres: Town centres and local high streets were identified as requiring investment. Examples of possible investments included painting shop fronts, supporting local shops and post offices to stay open and developing alternative uses for vacant premises.
- Involvement of communities: It was considered important for communities to be engaged in the activities of the Agency and contribute on potential areas of investment. The Agency should have an open and flexible culture to encourage collaboration with communities. Both the general population and those with specific expertise should be involved in Agency decision-making. It was felt that community councils could be used by the Agency to gain local feedback. The community ownership of assets should be encouraged.
- Social enterprise: Respondents felt that the Agency should support social enterprise in the South of Scotland. Social enterprises were identified as providing local economic, social and environmental benefits for communities.
- Socio-cultural offer: It was suggested that the Agency should support activities and events such as live music, health and fitness, theatre, film and arts. Cafes, social spaces and meeting venues could be supported to create a sense of community in local areas.
5.4 Activities related to the aim of capitalising on people and resources
A majority of respondents, and 21 out of 26 consultation events, discussed activities relating to the aim of capitalising on people and resources. The following areas of activity were identified:
- Capitalising on older and local people: Older and local people were recognised as having significant knowledge and experience which could be used to benefit South of Scotland communities. It was felt that older workers could be retrained to maximise economic opportunities in light of the demographic challenges faced by the South of Scotland.
- Creating a value-added economy: Respondents suggested that the Agency could help the South of Scotland to develop more value-added operations through the local processing and manufacturing of materials to create more end products.
- Education and skills: It was felt that the Agency should play a role in supporting opportunities for individuals to train or upskill to enhance their employability. Respondents suggested that local schools and colleges should provide vocational training to meet local skills gaps. The Agency could encourage local businesses to upskill their staff. The Agency could work with higher education institutions to increase local skills and retain residents.
- Networking: Respondents felt that the Agency should provide opportunities for networking so that businesses can share their experiences and knowledge. The Agency should promote sector or cluster building to encourage collaboration and dialogue.
- Providing opportunities for young people: A focus should be placed on ensuring there are training and employment opportunities for young people in the South of Scotland (this is discussed in more detail in Chapter 8).
- Research and innovation: Respondents felt that the Agency should help to foster innovation in the South of Scotland. In addition, spending on research and development should be encouraged to facilitate the creation of new products and services.
- Valuation and protection of assets: It was suggested that the Agency should play a role in the identification, valuation and protection of local assets. A few respondents regarded the creation of national parks as a step which would promote tourism and give local people a sense of pride and ownership for the area.
5.5 Other potential activities of the Agency
Respondents identified several other activities which could be pursued by the Agency. These included:
- Advocacy for South of Scotland at a national level: The Agency should be a voice for the South of Scotland at a Scottish and UK Government level. It was expressed that the Agency should play a role in negotiating grant provision for the region on a national level.
- Drawing on best practice for enterprise agencies and rural development: Respondents described a need to learn from success stories and best practice elsewhere, particularly in rural areas. For example, it was felt that the South of Scotland could learn from Highlands and Islands Enterprise and other international models.
- Strategy development: Respondents identified a range of types of strategy which should be developed by the Agency, for example for tourism, skills planning, digital economy, local and renewable energy, inward investment, transport and housing. It was felt that the Agency should develop a long-term vision for the region such as over a 20-year period.