Assisted Areas Map

First Minister's Question Time — scottish executive – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 27th April 2000.

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Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat 2:30 pm, 27th April 2000

On behalf of the Liberal Democrat group, I extend our good wishes to the First Minister for his forthcoming spell in hospital.

To ask the First Minister whether he will discuss changes to the revised assisted areas status map of 10 April 2000 with the Secretary of State for Scotland. (S1F-268)

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour

The assisted areas map is a reserved matter, but it is one in which we have an interest and it is a fair point to put to me. I make no complaint about the matter being raised. The Secretary of State for Scotland and I regularly discuss issues affecting development. The negotiations on the assisted areas map with the Commission have been a long, difficult and drawn-out process. We will continue to watch developments very closely indeed. I understand Euan Robson's particular anxieties. I am sure that his supplementary question will give me the opportunity to comment on them.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

The First Minister will know that the changes have removed from the map all Berwickshire and key industrial sites in St Boswells and Kelso in my constituency. Jedburgh was never even included to begin with. Does the First Minister appreciate that, if those communities are not restored to the map, several companies within them will have to compete with rivals in other parts of Scotland that have assisted area status, some of which have been brought into Scotland from overseas by Locate in Scotland?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour

I am not unsympathetic, but I do not want to sound optimistic. We are very late in agreeing the assisted areas map. That was not a matter of fault on our side. The discussion with the Commission about the basis on which the lines should be drawn has been very complicated and difficult. We fought very hard for a solution that would suit us in Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole. We have had to adjust the map, although only marginally. The outcome is good.

I want to make two brief comments. First, population coverage in the Scottish Borders has increased. I know that that is no great consolation to Euan Robson, but the figure has gone up from 36 per cent to 44 per cent as a result of the changes. There are worries about St Boswells and Kelso, but there is more coverage in Galashiels, Hawick and Peebles. I am sure that, as a Borders patriot, Euan Robson will be prepared to take the slightly broader view. Secondly, I remind the chamber, that although population coverage in Scotland came down by 1 per cent from 49 per cent to 48 per cent, that is not too bad given that England's coverage is 24 per cent and that coverage in Great Britain as a whole is 29 per cent. The outcome was not bad. It was hard fought. I hope that Euan Robson accepts that.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Is the First Minister aware that, in the Highlands of Scotland, the average wealth per head is some £6,000 less than in the Republic of Ireland? Can he therefore explain why every part of Ireland has and will continue to have over the next five years the benefits of assisted area status, whereas Inverness, Nairn, Moray and Badenoch and Strathspey will all be cut from the map? Has independence in Europe been bad for Ireland?

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar Labour

Ireland, as Fergus Ewing knows, did extremely well for many years because it was coming from an extremely low base in terms of gross domestic product per head. It therefore benefited as a very poor region of Europe. I am delighted to say that life is much harder for Ireland now—delighted because that reflects the progress that the Irish economy has made. As Fergus knows, Ireland was a major loser with regard to the whole structural funds argument and also with regard to the assisted areas argument. As is always the case in Europe, traditional arrangements protect for a very long time. However, I do not think that we should misunderstand the situation.

In the Highlands and Islands, the overall population coverage is 73 per cent, which is extremely high—certainly the highest coverage in Scotland and well above the Scottish average, as it ought to be. The two other high figures are 64 per cent population coverage in Fife and 69 per cent in Glasgow.

I know Inverness well, although obviously not as well as the member who represents it does. It is a town with a great deal of imagination, initiative and bounce of life. I suspect that it will continue to do very well indeed; we will encourage and help it in every way that we can.