Recession bites at local towns

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STRANRAER has been listed as number four in the top ten of towns in Scotland at risk of imploding due to the ongoing recession.

The shock statistics from theScottish Agricultural College’s Rural Policy Centre, also lists Ayr, Girvan and Maybole in South Ayrshire. According to the research, these towns are the most vulnerable to downturn associated with current economic and social change.

Published in the SAC Rural Policy Centre’s new report ‘Rural Scotland in Focus 2012’, the Index suggests that a cluster of vulnerable places exists, particularly the south west of Scotland.

Dr Jane Atterton of SAC’s Rural Policy Centre (RPC) said: “The Vulnerability Index provides a means of analysing how current economic and social changes, particularly public sector cuts, unemployment rates and population ageing, are affecting the vulnerability of places in different locations and of different sizes. “Continuing vulnerability may lead to a decline in service provision and the out-migration of the local population.”

“Towns play a vital role in Scotland’s rural and regional development, but they have not received substantial policy recognition, leaving them at risk of falling into a gap between urban and rural policies.

”While the Vulnerability Index offers a useful picture of which towns are vulnerable and which are vibrant, more in-depth work must now be done to understand the socio-economic functions of different places and the characteristics of the wider region in which they are located. This will help to explain each settlement’s vulnerability in more detail, so that appropriate funding and policy measures can be targeted to groups of places with particular characteristics.”

Galloway and West Dumfries MSP Alex Fergusson said: “This report should act as something of a wake up call to every individual and agency that has the wellbeing of Stranraer at their heart. I greatly welcome the task force that has been established by the Scottish Government to help to take forward the far-sighted plans for the waterfront that the Council has brought together. These are both steps in the right direction.

“This report, however, suggests that we need more of a giant leap than a mere step if this problem is to be meaningfully addressed. It comes as no surprise that many of the problems that have been highlighted stem from our geographic situation and the fact that too many of our young people have to leave the Region for educational and employment reasons. There is no quick fix, but I hope this report will make people really sit up and look at the short, medium and long term planning that is required if we are to provide a solution to these problems.”

Stranraer and North Rhins Labour Councillor Marion McCutcheon said: “This is an eye-opening report that must set alarm bells ringing for the council and government. It shows that many towns in Dumfries and Galloway are in very real risk over the next few years unless urgent action is taken. The report’s authors don’t pull their punches, with the dire warning that some communities will die due to increasing unemployment and a decline in local services, causing people to move away. The findings are particularly bleak for Stranraer, which is ranked the fourth most vulnerable town in all of Scotland. You just need to look at the slow progress on the waterfront regeneration and the empty shops to see the reports finding are very much reflected.”

Fellow Stranraer councillor Willie Scobie added: “This is not news for the people of Stranraer but rather a re-affirmation of what we already new from the survey that was conducted with the findings made public last year by the Scottish Agricultural College.

“What is particularly damning is that it does not appear to have been anything done to bring Stranraer out of the top four towns in Scotland identified from suffering from rural deprivation, unemployment and an ageing population who rely on public services.

“We are suffering from a continual onslaught of public services where the local authority is the largest employer in the region and not only do we see a reduction on jobs but it takes away the opportunity for anyone to gain meaningful employment. Our young folk then have to move away which denies us of the cream of our young people to put back the wealth of knowledge that they will have gained.

“Stranraer suffered an even greater blow when Stena moved and while we were all relieved that it was staying in Lochryan and invested £200 million of its own, we have been sadly let down in that we did not see the return of public sector investment into the Waterfront Project or have we heard anything coming out of the Task Force that has been set up.

“Stranraer needs to ensure the rail services and the links to Ireland are maintained and indeed, improved to link Edinburgh to Belfast and Dublin if we are not to be further isolated from the rest of the country.

“We need to hear of what public sector investment is being restored so we can gain the confidence of the private sector to invest in our Waterfront which should be the priority Project for Dumfries and Galloway Council.

“We need the Scottish Government along with Dumfries and Galloway Council to come out and announce that Stranraer has this status or we will wither on the vine with nothing more than the powers that be constantly talking about what they would like to do with no real positive outcomes from their discussions.

“The Non Aligned Group on Dumfries and Galloway Council will be raising this issue at every level as we cannot afford to loose what is a Golden Opportunity to put Stranraer back on the map as a prosperous town and one that people want to visit.”