Working together to transform the Borders

European funding is hugely important to Scotland's rural areas. I've now joined forces with my fellow SNP politicians in the Borders to back Scottish Government proposals which could allow the region to access far better funding options from Brussels.

Along with MSPs Paul Wheelhouse and Christine Grahame, I'm supporting the creation of a new South of Scotland region as part of a revision of EU administrative region boundaries, known as NUTS2. This change would bring us real benefits.

Paul worked for 19 years as an economic development consultant before being elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2011 and so has professional experience in this area.

He's commented:  "I warmly welcome the fact that the Scottish Government has listened to the South of Scotland Alliance, Scottish Borders Council and those of us who have also advocated this change for many years.

"I and my colleagues, Calum and Christine are delighted Scottish Ministers are consulting on the creation of a new region for Southern Scotland and strongly support this move.

"This could be truly transformational for our area, in a similar way to the transformation that has occurred in the Highlands. I meet many businesses frustrated that they are currently unable to obtain funding support for investment projects locally due to how we are currently classified for EU funding. 

"That is why I took the opportunity to flag this up as being badly needed when Minister Fergus Ewing MSP chaired the stakeholder summit in Hawick last week. 

"The needs of South of Scotland are perhaps less well recognised outside our patch than those of the Highlands and Islands are, because of the effect of the current unhelpful statistical regions used to inform policy hide our challenges - we also have low unemployment, but this masks the high levels of in work poverty caused by low wages. 

"Crucially, productivity (GDP) per capita in areas like the Borders and North and East Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway are now considerably lower than many areas in the Highlands and Islands and we therefore have every bit as great a need to secure vital investment for infrastructure, skills and economic diversification - this having been something I flagged up as an issue in my own maiden speech in 2011.

"This very welcome change, if agreed following the consultation, could not only provide better access and higher rates of funding support for individual projects, drawing upon up to €941 million of EU funding allocated to Scotland for the period 2014-20 for such ends, but this could also help inform new regional policy development and transport infrastructure opportunities. We should all very vocally get behind this change."

Christine Grahame has also backed the move, saying: "If we can push this through, then these issues would be highlighted more. In turn, that would mean policymaking could be better focused on providing specific measures to help support our economic development.

"Research shows that changing the rules wouldn't adversely affect any of the existing Scottish areas and it could represent a net gain for Scotland as a whole."

As far as I'm concerned, this is a massive opportunity for the Borders and one we need to take advantage of.

It really does have the potential to completely transform the funding help we receive and to make this a better place to live and work. "

At present there are four NUTS2 - it stands for the Nomenclature of Units for Territorial Statistics - areas in Scotland. The Borders is designated within the East of Scotland area.

However, the current arrangement doesn't work as we're combined with more affluent places such as Edinburgh. The skewing effect of the capital results in the whole of our NUTS2 region being seen as too wealthy per capita.

This means we can't justify higher rates of EU and domestic grants being available without affecting "States Aid" regulations, designed to prevent unfair levels of public subsidy being issued.

However, with a new South of Scotland area, we could do better because we'd be combined with other regions in a zone including the Scottish Borders, all three Ayrshire authorities, Dumfries and Galloway and the Clydesdale area of South Lanarkshire,

There's a common thread across these areas - GDP per head here is lower than Scottish, UK and EU averages, we all have a relatively large ageing population, wages are below the Scottish average, and our towns and communities need diversification.

Hopefully the support Paul, Christine and I are giving to this proposal will reinforce the terrific work which has already on this. 

Let's now hope that the Scottish Government is able to take our thinking on board and react positively to the idea of change.

We really could all be winners here - and the three of us intend to do whatever we can to make sure that we are.