4. The economic context of the South of Scotland
4.1. The activities and priorities of the Agency need to be shaped by the economic context of the South of Scotland so that it delivers maximum impact with activities specifically tailored to the circumstances of the area.
4.2. The South of Scotland is dominated by small businesses, very often family owned. Self-employment is equally important. Traditional sectors such as farming, forestry, tourism and hospitality make a substantial contribution to the economy. The area has growing strengths in a diverse range of other sectors including energy, construction, logistics, life sciences and creative industries to name but a few. There are, of course, many world class innovative businesses operating in the area both indigenous to the area and also choosing to locate in the area. Business spend on research and innovation is however low, below the national average.
4.3. Community based businesses are a key part of the economic base, recognising the varied social fabric and place, bringing local vibrancy and specialism. This is something that our Strengthening Communities Programme  is already helping to enable.
4.4. The South has significant resources in land assets and energy resources. It is as rich as any part of Scotland in renewable energy resources, with technologies such as on shore wind and hydro capable of making a significant contribution to local and national energy demand. Pumped storage hydro can also play a vital role in providing power when needed, increasing stability and resilience across local and national networks. There remains great potential for further development across the area, in the right places and subject to the relevant planning procedures.
4.5. The South is strategically well-placed with the existing transport connections offering opportunities for the region's future growth. One of the key strategic trunk roads in Scotland, the M74, passes through the region, as do the A7, A68 and A1 providing excellent connections to key markets in England, Central Scotland and beyond. The A75 and A77 strategic routes also play an important role in connecting the ports at Cairnryan with the rest of Scotland. The ports are not only important to the region but are of major importance to Scotland as a whole, operating as a direct link to Ireland with all the economic and social benefits that brings on both sides of the Irish Sea. For rail, the East and West Coast Main Lines both cross the border with England providing connectivity between major UK cities, and the Borders Railway extends the rail network from Edinburgh to Tweedbank. The existing rail links, combined with future opportunities for rail freight, add to the region's assets and future growth possibilities.
4.6. The economy is, of course, shaped by the characteristics of the area's geography and population and has to operate in that context. The South of Scotland is one of the most rural areas of the country, which impacts on physical and digital connectivity. Across the area there are many small towns. It has a low population density which is ageing, with young people leaving the South and not returning. The South has valuable assets in land and natural resources with an opportunity to make much more use of these.
4.7. The South offers considerable strengths and opportunities too. These are vital building blocks for a strong economic future. These include:
- traditional sectors with a reputation for excellence;
- over 10% of Scotland's agriculture, forestry and fishery output;
- a manufacturing heritage with a strong base and active construction sector;
- strengths in renewable energy and significant land assets that offer opportunities for further development;
- strengths in the creative industries – crafts, design, fashion and textiles, visual arts, software and electronic publishing;
- improving physical connectivity – roads and investment in the Borders Railway - and improving digital connectivity with the rollout of superfast broadband;
- a high quality environment with an attractive offering for tourism with world class activities and heritage;
- colleges and universities operating across the area able to offer a variety of opportunities to develop skills;
- diverse towns and villages acting as centres for their local communities and their rural hinterlands with vibrant community businesses;
- many entrepreneurial businesses, sometimes world-leading; and
- a unique strategic location, with long standing links to Ireland, Northern Ireland and England.
Question 4: What are the strengths you would like to see the Agency build on?
Question 5: What are the economic challenges you would like to see the Agency address?