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Unemployment is, of course, a personal tragedy for individuals and their families. Although political point scoring may create jobs for politicians, it does little to improve the employment prospects of their constituents. In that spirit, I am happy to concur with many of the remarks made by Mr Mundell and Mr Russell.
I thank the minister for his commitment, in response to my earlier correspondence, to visit Dumfries and to examine not only its problems but, I hope, its great potential.
The whole population of Dumfries must have
The first was the difficulties that continue to exist as a result of the BSE crisis, particularly the loss of exports to the near east and Saudi Arabia, which has seriously reduced Nestlé's market for dried milk products. The second, which has also featured in my discussions with other local manufacturers-Dupont and Cochran's, for example, both of which have recently announced intentions to downsize as it is known-was the effect of the recession in Russia and the far east. As a consequence of the collapse of the markets there, companies trading in those areas have moved in to compete in a significantly smaller marketplace.
I am not quite sure what the Scottish Parliament can do to rectify either of those problems. The joint economic strategy launched by Dumfries and Galloway Enterprise and Dumfries and Galloway Council expressed the view that "the Parliament should offer opportunities for all agencies to work more closely together and with central government."
That sounds good, but somehow we must make it a reality.
Having said all that, I do not think that it helps to talk Dumfries and Galloway down. It is not some bleak unemployment black spot. Although jobs have been lost during the past couple of years, they have also been created. Indeed, the unemployment figures have fallen by approximately a quarter since 1996.
New employers will be attracted to the area because of its advantages and potential. That must be emphasised, but it is not to deny that there are problems that need to be tackled. Even if employment is growing in other sectors, the loss of manufacturing industry is worrying as it offers better paid jobs that help to sustain local economies.
Dumfries and Galloway has a reputation-an unfortunate one in my opinion-for having a low-wage economy. Wages are some 10 per cent less than in other areas. I do not believe that my constituents should be paid lower wages because they happen to live in Dumfries and Galloway and we can ill afford to lose employers who pay better wages.
For example, Dumfries is only 79 miles from Edinburgh and Lockerbie is only 68 miles away. I am off there at 5.30-I think Mr Mundell is too-but I cannot travel by train from my constituency and get to Edinburgh before 10.30 in the morning. That is not just an inconvenience to me; it is a disincentive to business and commuters.
I do not want to concentrate exclusively on negative issues. I am extremely proud to represent such a beautiful area where so many positive developments are taking place and I want to advertise the area so that everyone in and outside Scotland knows how much Dumfries and Galloway has to offer.
Tourism is a major industry in the area. The industry is worth something like £75 million and employs about 9 per cent of the local work force.