We are working with the south of Scotland alliance, which is a partnership of Scottish Borders Council, Dumfries and Galloway Council and Scottish Enterprise, to facilitate its competitiveness strategy, and we have transferred responsibility for local economic development, including the business gateway, to local authorities. Already this year, more than 200 businesses have been helped to start up in the Borders. Our delivery agencies support a range of projects in sectors that are key to the Borders economy, such as tourism, textiles, food and forestry, and we continue to improve the business environment through the small business bonus scheme, reducing business rates for more than 3,000 businesses in the Borders, reducing unnecessary burdens through better planning and procurement, and encouraging easier access to public sector contracts. This week, we have announced a £10 million fund to encourage small and medium-sized companies to take on staff, and we are working with Scottish Development International and the Scottish Chambers of Commerce to assist the export potential of Borders businesses.
The minister will be aware of, and has been supportive of, moves to secure faster and more reliable broadband and mobile telephony for the Scottish Borders, which are critical for the future economic wellbeing of the region. He will also be aware that the Scottish Government ranked the Highlands broadband bid to the United Kingdom Government’s Broadband delivery UK over that of the south of Scotland. Most of that area is in my constituency. As there is a new process going forward, will the Scottish Government work proactively to support the proposal from the south of Scotland, which includes the Borders, to secure additional funding support? I am aware that the parliamentary session is nearing its end, but will the minister have time to meet me and local agencies to discuss how that partnership working can be taken forward for the better securing of faster broadband in the Scottish Borders?
I will cut to the chase: I would welcome the opportunity to meet Mr Purvis. We have recently raised the issue of the south of Scotland in conversations with United Kingdom ministers and we are working assiduously to ensure that the Scottish Borders case is as strong as it can be and that lessons are learned from other cases that have already passed the test.
Does the minister agree that the small business bonus scheme to which he referred has protected local firms and safeguarded local jobs, that more than 8,000 local firms have paid no rates or have had their rates significantly reduced, and that that approach contrasts with the hypocrisy of the Liberal Democrats, who pose as guardians of local businesses but oppose taxing Tesco superstores that undermine the viability of small businesses?
Having just finished an answer in a collegiate fashion, I have no option but to agree with Mrs Grahame. There was an opportunity to show cohesion with the vast mass of Borders businesses and many people throughout the Borders who face hard times and uncertainty, but that opportunity was lost. However, I am sure that Mrs Grahame will capitalise on it.