Ruth Davidson will today announce plans to form a South of Scotland Enterprise (SE), similar to Highlands and Islands Enterprise(HIE), to boost the economy of the Borders and Dumfries and Galloway.
The initiative would receive a budget of around £25 million a year and would be a break off from the existing Scottish Enterprise, Scotland’s main economic development agency.
The announcement will be a key part of the Scottish Conservatives’ manifesto, which is being launched in Glasgow today.
The Scottish Conservatives see the south of Scotland as a key area as they attempt to achieve their ambition of overtaking Labour as the main party of opposition at Holyrood.
The Tory candidate John Lamont is hoping to hold on to his Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire constituency. While Oliver Mundell, the son of the Scottish Secretary David Mundell, is in a tight battle for the Dumfriesshire seat with the SNP’s Joan McAlpine and Labour’s Elaine Murray. Today’s manifesto will say: “Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise provide an important service to our businesses across Scotland. Nonetheless, the recognition of the Highlands and Islands as a unique business landscape requiring unique support, leads us to believe that this approach could be replicated elsewhere too. In particular, we believe a South of Scotland Enterprise should be considered. This should have a social as well as an economic remit – which is the key difference between SE and HIE today.”
Yesterday a Scottish Conservative source said: “Businesses in the north of Scotland benefit from the existence of Highlands and Islands Enterprise. We believe we could learn from this, and establish something similar for the south of Scotland.
“That’s an area which faces unique challenges, and would be boosted by a dedicated organisation created to stimulate growth and the economy.
“Any new set-up could also have social benefits too.”
The manifesto will also include a call for £1 billion to be invested in improving energy efficiency in Scotland’s homes over the next parliament. Currently, more than six out of ten homes in Scotland are ranked either average of worse in energy efficiency.
Ms Davidson will say that the Scottish Government should make a fresh target that every home has an energy efficiency rate of “C” or better by the end of this decade.
Ahead of the launch Scottish Labour renewed their attacks on the Conservatives’ plans for a graduate endowment scheme to pay for university tuition and their proposal to reintroduce prescription charges.
Labour’s Neil Findlay said: “This is the real test for Ruth Davidson’s party – she can’t hide behind daft photo ops forever. The Tories need to be honest about the charges they want to impose on students going to university or sick people picking up a prescription.”