SOUTHERN Scotland’s economy is lagging behind the rest of the country thanks to poor transport and a serious shortage of skills.

That is the conclusion of a major report in to why the region - which covers both the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway - is failing to create enough jobs.

Economists at The Good Economy and the Ethical Financial Hub say the south has areas where young people with skills leave - but those without feel they have little or no purpose.

They found: “The region’s limited skill base and labour pool is seen as a major barrier to business-led inclusive growth. There were concerns over the outward migration of young people.

“However, our focus is on the aspirations and opportunities of the young people who stay in the region.

“We were told of pockets of poverty and deprivation where there are high levels of youth unemployment combined with high levels of mental health problems and drug addiction.

“These are known communities and estates where local people talk of a ‘poverty of aspiration’.

“At the same time, local business complained about problems with recruiting staff.”

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The economists, who were commissioned by the Scottish Government, also found serious problems with public transport, citing one business which was forced to send a chauffeur driven car to pick up business associates from Carlisle station.

Their report comes ahead of the launch of a new regional enterprise agency amid concerns the borders and Dumfries and Galloway are overlooked as destinations for both tourism and investment. It follows the announcement by the UK and Scottish Governments of a new £400m Borderlands Investment deal, covering part of the south.

Its headline finding was that Southern Scotland’s economy had reached a “watershed moment’.

A series of key recommendations include better transport links such as extending the Borders Railway, a strategy to attract young workers and families to the area, better tourism promotion and an overhaul of town centres.

Growing the private sector is particularly challenging because of the rural geography, but the region is a “unique place” capable of delivering significant inclusive jobs growth, the report found.

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SNP’s list MSP Joan McAlpine said: “The report comes at an important time for South Scotland and anyone who knows the region will recognise the challenges and opportunities it identifies - in particular the need to retain and attract talent and the importance of improving transport links and revitalising town centres.

“It is therefore fortunate that a new regional skills plan has just been unveiled, as have consultations on transport priorities. It is indeed a critical time for the area and that’s why the new agency is so important.”

Tory MSP Rachel Hamilton said: “The report highlights many issues that the Scottish Government must act upon to unlock the Borders’ potential.

“With the signing of the heads of terms of the Borderlands Deal just yesterday, work is already underway to kick start growth.

“The deal pledges funding for the feasibility study for the Borders railway extension, which will improve connectivity and drive business growth.

“Cross-border connectivity is vital in attracting business, this was raised by many at a recent business breakfast that I hosted in Kelso.

“The new Enterprise Agency and Borderlands deal will act as a catalyst to growth, but this is very much the starting point”.