RSE Response to the Draft Regional Economic Strategy for the South of Scotland

In August 2021, the RSE hosted a roundtable with the South of Scotland Enterprise (SOSE) on their consultation on the Draft Regional Economic Strategy for the South of Scotland.

The discussion report highlights the wide-ranging nature of the strategy and underscores the need for it to be aligned with, and connected to, relevant Scottish Government strategies, including the recently refreshed Digital Strategy and the Securing a Green Recovery Strategy. The level of resource available for implementing the strategy will be a crucial factor in determining if it can achieve all of its ambitions, or if greater prioritisation will be required.

The report highlights that the South of Scotland is facing a demographic crisis, which will require innovation to attract and retain talent in the region. This can be supported through improved digital and transport connectivity, and capitalising on working-from-home developments.

A strong business community exists in the South of Scotland. However, improvements to innovation and enterprise are required to help attract new people and businesses to the region, including through collaboration and investment in critical infrastructure. SOSE should continue to support businesses and entrepreneurs through initiatives such as the Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal.

The region is home to a significant array of assets in natural capital, biodiversity, energy, and agriculture, which will be critical in helping Scotland to achieve net-zero. It is crucial that new renewable energy projects involve local communities within the decision-making process. The strategy needs to set out more detail on how climate adaptation and the development of a circular economy will be supported.

The RSE looks forward to continuing to develop its relationship with SOSE and engaging with the agency as it finalises its strategy and delivery plan.

Paper summary

In August 2021, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland’s National Academy, hosted a roundtable with the South of Scotland Enterprise (SOSE) on their consultation on the Draft Regional Economic Strategy for the South of Scotland. The roundtable brought together RSE Fellows, Young Academy of Scotland members, members of the RSE Economy and Enterprise Committee and SOSE officials. The roundtable builds on RSE support for establishing a new enterprise agency for the South of Scotland and extensive engagement with SOSE since its creation.

The strategy is wide-ranging and covers several areas of economic and societal importance; therefore, it is crucial that the strategy is aligned with and connected to wider strategies from the Scottish Government, including the recently refreshed Digital Strategy and the Securing a Green Recovery Strategy. Furthermore, more funding may be necessary to achieve notable success in the areas within the strategy; if not, SOSE may need to develop more focused interventions to achieve impact. If the strategy is successful, it will bring significant benefits to the region, and it will be important that the benefits are shared across communities.

Similar to other parts of Scotland, the South of Scotland is facing a demographic crisis; however, this may be more severe in the south. Addressing the demographic crisis will require interventions to attract and retain people to the region through improved education offerings, new jobs, or a better work-life balance. SOSE should lead efforts to bring together efforts to attract people to, and retain people in, the region.

There is a strong business community within the region that contributes to thriving communities. Improving innovation and enterprise will help to attract new people and businesses to the region. Therefore, it is vitally important that SOSE support businesses and entrepreneurs. Collaboration and investment in critical infrastructure will be important to help businesses grow. The Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal has already initiated collaboration between local authorities and investment in critical infrastructure.

The South of Scotland region has significant assets in natural capital, biodiversity, energy and agriculture, and will be critical in helping Scotland achieve net-zero. The region has experienced significant development in renewable energy projects; while beneficial in decarbonising electricity, these do come at a cost if the local communities are not involved in the planning process. Across the region, there are opportunities to develop new renewable projects. However, these should involve the local communities within the planning process.

With rising temperatures, the region will likely experience impacts of climate change, yet the strategy does not reference climate adaptation, which will be critically important to create resilient communities. Moreover, the circular economy can benefit the region by reducing emissions and waste and creating savings for businesses and shortening supply chains. SOSE should include more detail on climate adaptation and the circular economy in the final strategy and delivery plan.

The RSE looks forward to continuing to develop its relationship with SOSE and engaging with the agency as it finalises its strategy and publishes its delivery plan.