Head of South of Scotland venture ‘incredibly proud’ of first three years

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After years of fighting for it, the South of Scotland Enterprise (SOSE) could hardly have started at a worse time.

It was officially launched on 1 April 2020 – just days after the Covid pandemic hit the UK.

Completing three years in existence, chief executive Jane Morrison-Ross said she was “incredibly proud” of how things had gone.

But what effect has it had on the area it serves – Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders?

Ms Morrison-Ross said: “We are trying to build our foundations on the go, which is always difficult, but during the first year there was not the time and ability to do normal things.”

She said that, in many ways, this meant that SOSE was still more like a start-up organization.

However, she added that it was felt to have made a significant impact across southern Scotland.

Corn Mill Picture by David Knox

The work at Kirkhope in the Borders is one of a large number of projects supported by the organization.

“It is not about the amount of grant or loan funding because some small amounts absolutely make a transformational difference,” she said.

“Some of the things that I think we, as a team, are most proud of or see the biggest impact on are things like the investment in Kirkhope Steading.”

Working with SOSE, the Ettrick & Yarrow community development company has converted the building into homes and business workshops.

“Something like this brings new families into a community that is concerned about overpopulation,” Ms Morrison-Ross said.

“It brings new jobs, it brings new start-ups and then it brings new kids to elementary school.”

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Among other initiatives supported are:

  • Carbon Capture Scotland – a Crockettford company aiming to create 500 jobs

  • Hilltop Leaf – medicinal cannabis firm in Dumfries and Galloway

  • VR-EP – A Galashiels-based business is developing a virtual reality device to provide a better understanding of dementia

  • Babblefo – Creating devices to help children with respiratory and chronic chest conditions

Regret has also happened.

Ms Morrison-Ross said: “We obviously came out of Covid and went straight into the cost of living crisis, the energy crisis, the effects of changes in international import-export laws and everything else and it has been really tough. “

“There are businesses we have lost in the south of Scotland because we could not step in with the support they needed to help them through six months of energy bills, which in some cases rose by several hundred per cent.

“It’s depressing, you know. To try and support all 11,000-plus businesses in the South, it would have required an unprecedented level of support.

“It’s terrible to see businesses that are such an important part of the supply chain struggle and in some cases get shut down.”

There was also a £4.8m investment in PPE firm Alpha Solvay which did not pan out as expected With the company eventually closing one of its Dumfries plants.

“I think these kinds of investments are difficult,” admitted Ms Morrison-Ross.

“There is no right answer – if we had not made the initial investment, there would not have been the supply, there would not have been the capacity to be able to meet the PPE challenges during Covid.

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“And, although this is not the outcome we wanted, Alpha Solvay played a huge role in meeting the challenges of keeping people safe and supplying that PPE during COVID.”

‘Fantastic Team’

It is a learning process that is still ongoing.

“I think sometimes you have to take a little risk to make the right decision,” she said.

“We won’t be perfect every time, but we’ll learn as we go.”

And what would she say to companies that might think of SOSE as a one stop shop or an organization that wasn’t there for them?

“I usually just say call us, talk to us,” she said.

“We have a great team across the South and we have people with expertise in almost every area you can think of.

“You have nothing to lose. Just give us a call and we’ll do whatever we can to help.”