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Job Losses (Dumfries and Galloway)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:23 pm on 16th June 1999.

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Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish Labour 5:23 pm, 16th June 1999

I am very pleased to wind up the debate. There have been some excellent speeches. It has been brief, but I am delighted that so many members have been able to speak. Of necessity, I, too, shall have to be brief. That should not be construed as anything other than sticking to the timetable.

I congratulate Mr Mundell on securing the debate and thank the other participants, including my colleague Dr Elaine Murray. I also want to confirm that I intend to visit Dumfries and Galloway very soon. If there are problems to be addressed, my style will be to visit and encourage local relationships-we have many in the area, and I hope that we can take advantage of them. Economic development powers do not come to the Parliament until 1 July, but I want to make preparations for my visit now.

It is clear that rural economies in Scotland face particular problems. I am aware, because I have heard them say so on many occasions, that people from Dumfries and Galloway and, indeed, the Borders feel disadvantaged by the emphasis that has been placed on the Highlands and Islands. We should not take anything away from the Highlands and Islands, but we can put more emphasis on Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders. That is what a Parliament for the whole of Scotland is all about, and this evening I am committing myself to that aspiration.

The involvement of local authorities, the private sector and public sector bodies in local enterprise companies leads me to believe that local ownership of solutions is vital. That does not mean that the Government can walk away from tackling the problems practically. Adjournment debates in Westminster seemed very remote, geographically and psychologically. This is Edinburgh, we are very close, and I want Mr Mundell to take a strong message back to his community: we want to gel all our commitment locally and work for his area.

We also want to take a new initiative. Debates about rural affairs and rural economies cover virtually every subject in the Parliament. Governments have traditionally not been good at what we call cross-cutting. I want to work closely with Ross Finnie and others to ensure that transport, tourism, the environment, economic development and land issues are brought together, not only in the Executive, but in this Parliament. I would like to think it a challenge to this Parliament, with its subject and mandatory committees, to examine the possibilities of cross-cutting very early on.

The Government has responded over the past two years. It is clear that Dumfries and Galloway has faced difficult times. Last October, Donald Dewar announced an additional £1 million for Dumfries and Galloway Enterprise to start the rebuilding process. Funding has already laid foundations for economic growth: more than 300 people have benefited from training programmes and from early completion of the plastics park in Dumfries, which is a fine example of local skills and strengths being adapted to changing global markets. There has been additional support for small business, which is essential for diversification and the local economy.

An additional £1 million of funding has to be followed through with a clear strategy and additional resources. The situation is developing, and there are perceived problems, but I want to concentrate in the short time available to me on the potential for Dumfries and Galloway. All members who spoke stressed the problems, but every area has potential. It is right that this Parliament and all the agencies involved recognise that fact. Agriculture is facing difficult times, but it has a tremendous future and tourism has grown enormously, to the extent that 9 per cent of the employed population is now working in it.

It is evident that, with a minute remaining, I will not have time to do justice to the myriad points that have been made in this debate. Suffice to say that I want to look, listen and learn about what is happening in Dumfries and Galloway. A raft of reports is already available, but we are also at the start of a new era in which we can do things differently. I think that, over the next few weeks, we will be able to visit Dumfries and Galloway. We want to discuss the situation there with our farming colleagues and to examine assisted area status, European funds and objective 2, which is a current issue-it is reserved to Westminster, but Scottish ministers are closely involved and we want to do the best we can for every part of Scotland.

I would like to think that this debate has illustrated why we fought so long to get it. It has been very constructive and I hope that it will act as a signpost for others. I am delighted that it has taken place. It has been extraordinarily brief, but we will be visiting, building and co-operating not only with MSPs, but with everyone who has the best interests of Dumfries and Galloway and the south of Scotland at heart.