Scottish Borders (Economy)

Question Time — Scottish Executive – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 27th March 2003.

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Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 2:30 pm, 27th March 2003

To ask the Scottish Executive what measures it has taken to promote the economic well-being of the Scottish Borders. (S1O-6709)

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

A wide range of policies promotes economic well-being. Scottish Enterprise Borders is taking action in line with the direction and priorities that are set out in the Executive's "A Smart, Successful Scotland". The Borders local economic forum allows for the co-ordinated delivery of local economic development activities.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

As the minister is aware, the draft bill for the Borders rail link was lodged this week. Given that the Borders has suffered a net loss of 500 jobs since Labour came to power and that the modest projection is that even a partial reinstatement of the line to Galashiels would result in the Borders gaining 900 jobs, does he accept that the business case for the railway is staring him in the face? The railway should simply now be built. At a stroke, that would secure the economic well-being of the Scottish Borders.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

As Christine Grahame knows well from previous exchanges, we are keen to see progress on the matter. However, the business case is not staring me in the face because it is not yet with the Executive. I was pleased to see from this week's press that the Waverley rail partnership is making progress—it is about to submit an interim case, which I believe will be with the Executive in the next few days. Next Monday, we enter the period during which it will not be possible to progress that case, but I assure Christine Grahame that the matter will be in my diary for 2 May.

Photo of Ian Jenkins Ian Jenkins Liberal Democrat

Does the minister agree that, although there are real problems in the Borders economy, there are also real grounds for optimism? The population of the Borders is increasing; the railway is on track; broadband is coming; the Scottish Public Pensions Agency has been established at Tweedbank; farming and tourism are in the process of recovery; there are positive developments in health service infrastructure—

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

I am interested in the Borders, but I would like a question.

Photo of Ian Jenkins Ian Jenkins Liberal Democrat

Does the minister agree that none of those things—apart perhaps from the railway—seems to interest Ms Grahame, who prefers to launch lightning raids on the Borders, looking for trouble and fanning the flames before beetling back to Edinburgh to issue inflammatory press releases, which are peppered with half-truths and misinformation?

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

I can only agree. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to Mr Jenkins's far more constructive approach both to representing his constituents and the interests of the Borders and to the proceedings of the Parliament. He will be sorely missed.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

And I was going to say something nice about you, Presiding Officer.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

On the regeneration of the Borders economy, will the minister explain why the Executive has chosen to transfer 270 Scottish Natural Heritage jobs to Inverness rather than to Galashiels? Inverness has a booming economy—this week, only 48 houses were for sale on the market in Inverness. Galashiels is on the opposite side of the economic coin. Further to that, will the minister assure me—I think that I speak for Angus MacKay, Susan Deacon and the other Edinburgh MSPs—[MEMBERS: "Oh!"] They do not mind. They are broad minded. Perhaps other members should try to be so as well.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

I know that it is the end of term, but let us have a question.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

The question is about the policy of moving 270 jobs. I am in agreement with those other MSPs that I mentioned. I do not agree with the transfer of those jobs in this way at this time. Will the minister assure me that, after I have seen his colleague Ross Finnie tomorrow, the policy will be put on ice?

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

The connection between Margo MacDonald's question and the original question is the 200 civil service jobs at the Scottish Public Pensions Agency that were relocated from Edinburgh to Galashiels. I understand that the decision to which she refers is extremely difficult for those who work in SNH to accept. We must work hard to ensure that there is alternative employment for those who cannot move to Inverness. I understand from her question that Margo MacDonald is meeting my colleague Ross Finnie tomorrow, so I do not think that it would be proper for me to comment further.