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Keep up to date with the latest news and stories from across Dumfries & Galloway.

 

MP Helps Secure Farm Funding Boost

A funding boost for Scottish agriculture will bring extra support to rural Dumfries and Galloway.

Scottish Secretary and local MP Alister Jack, who held discussions with farmers at the recent Stranraer Show, believes part of the £160 million package could benefit struggling farms in upland areas.

Chancellor Sajid Javid confirmed the convergence money would be allocated to the agricultural industry north of the border while giving the UK Government spending review on Wednesday.

Alister Jack SOSMr Jack pressed for the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funding to be delivered to Scotland after taking up the issue for constituents shortly after being elected with then UK Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Michael Gove.

The funding, originally drawn from the EU Multi-annual Financial Framework programme, was aimed at redistributing Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments more equitably across member countries.

And the UK qualified for the uplift because Scotland's per hectare rate is only 45 per cent of the EU average.  England, Wales and Northern Ireland are all above the 90 per cent qualifying threshold.

Mr Jack confirmed that the distribution of the funding would be handed over to the Scottish Government who have devolved responsibility over many areas of agriculture.

He said: "I'm pleased to have played a part in ensuring this funding comes to Scotland. It has been a bone of contention in parts of the industry for some time.

"I anticipate amongst the sectors that will benefit will be the upland sheep farms where support is essential on the less productive hill land. 

"My hope is some of this will eventually filter through helping support jobs in the wider rural supply chain."

Allocations Set For Agreement With Town Centre Living Fund

At the inaugural meeting of the Council’s Economy and Resources (E&R) Committee (12 Sept) Members will be asked to agree to a number of allocations from the Town Centre Living Fund 2019/20.

Dumfries and Galloway Council agreed to put in place a £1m Town Centre Living Fund in February 2019. This local initiative has been widely recognised as delivering a variety of positive regeneration projects across the region, making the best of the additional income generated by Council Tax on second homes

The allocations which are being put forward for recommendation include:

An additional £24,065 from Council Tax on second homes income to the Town Centre Living Fund to support the development of new housing development projects.

The allocation of £160,000 to Cunninghame Housing Association to enable re-development of the former Lockerbie Academy Site.

The allocation of £77,865 to Cunninghame Housing Association to carry out a feasibility study in relation to the creation of a community facility in the Grade B Listed Albert Hall in Annan.

The allocation of £144,000 to Loreburn Housing Association which will enhance the affordable housing development at the former Garrick Hospital site in Stranraer.

The allocation of £142,200 to Loreburn Housing Association to support the affordable housing development at the former Scottish Power yard at Brooms Road, Dumfries.

The allocation of £120,000 to provide empty homes grant funding to bring back the Grade B Listed building at 93 Irish Street, Dumfries to bring it back into use as 6 flats.

Chair of E&R, Rob Davidson said: “Providing members agree, these are exactly the type of projects our £1m Town Centre Living Fund was set up for. We need housing development such as these projects to support the regeneration of our town centres, attracting more people to live centrally, bringing extra income into our town centre businesses. These are prime sites which should provide modern affordable living accommodation for single people or families, revitalising the heart of our towns.”

Archie DryburghVice Chair, Archie Dryburgh said: “Economic regeneration in our town centres is vital, but it has to start from a source, and the best starting point is allowing people more choice to live in the centre of town, if that’s what would suit them. The knock-on effect will be more vibrant areas with shops, cafes, bars, social and community enterprises, leisure, culture and a boost to our tourism.”

The full report can be viewed at:

https://dumfriesgalloway.moderngov.co.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=551&MId=4834

Council To Consider Changes To Grading Structure To Ensure Living Wage

Dumfries and Galloway Council considers the Living Wage to be the single most important contribution to tackling poverty across our region and ensures that all of our employees are paid at least this hourly amount.  At the meeting the new Economy and Resources (E&R) Committee (12 Sept) Members will be asked to approve recommended changes to the pay and grading structure which will fully embed payments of the Living Wage to all employees.

All Scottish Local Authorities have committed to pay the SLGLW as a minimum to all employees.  Dumfries and Galloway Council has paid this rate as a minimum to all of our employees since 2012 as part of our ongoing commitment to tackle low in-work pay. The rate is set by COSLA annually in line with the local government pay award. It is derived from the Living Wage Foundation rate, calculated on the basic cost of living and defined as the basic amount needed to enjoy a basic, but socially acceptable standard of living.

As of April 2019, this amounts to £9.07 per hour and it is currently paid to as a supplement to the normal hourly rate to all eligible employees. This payment is included in the calculation of pensions and other relevant allowances. However, by continuing the process to pay as a supplement this has caused confusion at the bottom end of the pay scale, resulting in no difference between lower paid staff and those with line-management responsibility. Over time this will damage morale and cause recruitment and retention difficulties, challenging the integrity of the pay and grading structure.

Members of E&R will be asked to agree to the implementation of the revised pay and grading structure by removing any rates of pay which currently fall below the SLGLW. Distinctions will also be restored between pay bands 1,2 and 3 to recognise the differences in demands for each role within these grades. All costs of implementation have been considered through a number of options, with effect from 1 April 2020.

The cost of paying the SLGLW as a supplement (as at 1.4.19) is £824k. The 3% pay award for 2020/21 increases the SLGLW rate from £9.07 to £9.34, at a cost of £847k. Consolidation does not affect any other bands further up the pay scale. It only applies to bands 1,2 and 3, removing the supplement payment.

Chair of Economy and resources Committee, Rob Davidson said: “Dumfries and Galloway Council originally became an accredited with becoming a Living Wage Employer in June 2015. Paying a good wage for a good job is very important to us, and this is part of our ongoing anti-Poverty work to ensure people have a decent standard of living. We believe that this not only gives the advantage of helping to attract new staff, but also values and retains the workforce we already have.”

Archie DryburghVice Chair Archie Dryburgh said: “This is an this is an issue which needs corrected as it challenges the integrity of the Council’s job evaluation and pay structure. Low pay makes it difficult for employees to find time for community and family life and we have a duty to address this. “

Council Asked To Consider New Workforce Plan

At the first meeting of Dumfries and Galloway Councils new Economy and Resources Committee on 12 Sept, Members will be asked to consider and approve the new Council-Wide Workforce Plan.

This plan has been developed to reflect the current Transformation work which is taking place throughout the Council. The plan sets out proposals to ensure that we have a workforce which will deliver on our ambitions for the future, for our organisation and for our area. It describes the challenges we face, and the strategic actions required to deliver our Council Plan vision: ‘To create opportunity and support ambition to promote and establish Dumfries and Galloway as the best place to live, work and learn.’

The council’s workforce has been greatly reduced over the past 5 years and during this time the Council has been able to deliver significant savings through a range of measures: vacancy management, early retirement and voluntary redundancy and staff movement.

To deliver changes and improve services to our communities we must continue to develop a culture of high performance across our Council, maximise employee engagement and create a working environment where everyone can have a rewarding work-life.

Regular focus groups, monthly staff-engagement surveys and ongoing working groups continue to be used to encourage employees to feedback on a wide range of issues affecting our workforce, such as organisational culture, maximising attendance and health and wellbeing.

Chair of Economy and Resources, Rob Davidson said: “The public sector is facing challenging times and we must support our workforce to remain resilient and committed.  In our Council Plan we recognise that in order to achieve our vision and priorities, it is vital that our workforce is more diverse, flexible, skilled, engaged and motivated than ever before. We need to build on the initiatives already in place to align our workforce requirements directly to the Council Plan.

Archie DryburghVice Chair, Archie Dryburgh said: “This plan is essential to ensure we have a workforce which is efficient, streamlined and fit for the future. It recognises the need to change the way we operate, particularly in this current economic climate. Our employees do a great job for our communities every day and this is about recognising their commitment and professionalism but adapting to fulfil current and future needs.”

Business still unable to prepare fully for a no deal Brexit

New research from the Scottish & British Chambers of Commerce shows a concerningly high number of UK firms aren’t ready for a no deal Brexit. Business has consistently called on government to avoid a messy and disorderly exit but in light of the political turmoil and relentless uncertainty, clearer and more consistent information is needed to help them prepare.

 

The survey of firms from across the country, found that in the midst of conflicting political messages over the likelihood of no deal and remaining gaps in government guidance, half (50%) of Scottish businesses have not done a Brexit risk assessment. Those that trade internationally (50%) are more likely to have carried out a risk assessment on the impact of Brexit to their business than their counterparts that trade in the UK only (39%).

There has been a welcome jump in those that have carried out a Brexit assessment since last year (67% had not carried out an assessment in 2018), but with just weeks until a potential no deal exit, there is still a large proportion of firms that aren’t in a position to prepare for the impact.

Political turbulence and ongoing uncertainty about the final outcome of the Brexit process is hampering business planning, making it impossible for firms to know what to prepare for. While there has been an increase in the guidance available from government on conditions in a no-deal, the advice needs to be clearer and more consistent. In many critical areas, such as regulations, customs and trading in Northern Ireland, there is still no good information on which firms can plan.

In a no deal scenario, firms that trade with Europe will face new customs procedures at the border. However, awareness of other schemes* to maintain continuity of trade remains low. The results show that even among internationally active UK businesses:

  • 68% are not aware of Transitional Simplified Procedures (TSP)
  • 66% are not aware of Authorised Economic Operator status (AEO)
  • 72% are not aware of Customs Comprehensive Guarantees (CCG)

SCC and the wider chamber network has campaigned successfully for the government to automatically issue EORI numbers, which are critical for trading across borders, to all VAT-registered businesses. Now, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce is calling on HM Government to either automatically enrol or support businesses to access these other important customs and border facilitations.

The business group also continues to encourage all companies – not just those trading across borders – to consider the potential impact of Brexit on their operations. UK-only businesses will face impacts linked to their own suppliers and customers, or to changes elsewhere in the economy, and should take steps to assess these.

LIz Cameron

Dr Liz Cameron OBE, Director & Chief Executive at the Scottish Chambers of Commerce said:

“More firms in Scotland have taken basic steps to prepare for change than was the case last year which is good news but there are still too many with questions for which there are yet no answers.

“Government has stepped up communication to businesses, but ongoing uncertainty makes business planning with confidence next to impossible. Companies are told to plan but are being presented with a moving target.

“Businesses are facing significant changes on multiple fronts, and need official guidance that is consistent, precise and easily accessible, enabling them to trade in any scenario. Yet, there are many areas where there simply isn’t enough clear and actionable information for businesses to mitigate some of the impacts of an unwanted no-deal exit.

“Low levels of awareness around special customs and trade schemes are of particular concern, as this highlights the potential for disruption at borders in an unwanted no-deal situation. Companies should be automatically enrolled or supported to enrol in these schemes to increase trader readiness.

“Our evidence yet again reinforces the importance of averting a chaotic exit on October 31st.”