A 2050 vision for Edinburgh

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the_cragsPublic Affairs Co-operative is a business firmly rooted in the city we’re proud to be based in: Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh.

City leaders are taking forward a big exercise looking at where the capital is now and where it is going in the future. Edinburgh 2050 is all about what kind of city we want to live in 30 years from now.

So we were really pleased to be invited by Edinburgh Business Forum to take part in an event this week looking at one of three strands of this work: Edinburgh’s economy: your job, your business and your money.

Presentations from City of Edinburgh Council set the scene and then it was over to the businesses to set the agenda by putting forward their ideas on what kind of city they want in future and what barriers there might be to making it happen.

What used to be called the ‘new economy’ was well-represented and it was eye-opening to hear about the big growth in technology firms located in the capital.

Speaker after speaker made the link between economic performance and the strength of Edinburgh’s four universities. Whilst some concerns were expressed about the availability of finance to help start-ups, the overall picture was positive and forward-looking. Similar optimistic voices came from the tourism and creative industries sectors.

One common theme was the key importance of skills. There was praise for initiatives like Codeclan helping retrain people to work in technology companies but also a recognition that more needs to be done. It’s clear that large numbers of companies cannot currently recruit the staff they need to grow from Edinburgh, Scotland or indeed the UK. Our EU membership means talented young people come from all over Europe to study in Edinburgh and often stay after graduation. Brexit was – surprisingly perhaps – not mentioned but it is hard to see how companies can continue to recruit staff born outside the UK without a flexible visa regime in place after we leave the EU.

The City Deal for Edinburgh gives the capital a chance to ‘think big’ and look to address some of these issues business is flagging up as potential barriers to success. Numbers of students at Edinburgh College have declined since it was created three years ago. Perhaps there is an opportunity to look at further education provision again and consider if it can be more integrated into a wider city region skills agenda? Time will tell if City of Edinburgh Council and others wish to go down this route.

By 2050, Edinburgh is set to be the largest city in Scotland overtaking Glasgow for the first time since 1850. With new scale comes governance challenges, especially if smaller local authorities in the wider city region are drawn closer together to create a new ‘Metro Edinburgh’ in the future. Should our city have its own directly-elected Mayor? Well the current leader of the council agrees – with some qualifications. It won’t be him – Councillor Burns is due to stand down from his post at the next elections in May – and none of the main Scottish political parties currently support the idea. So not likely to happen soon!

With directly-elected Mayors being a feature of local government in England since 2000 and ‘Metro Mayors’ joining them for the first time in May 2017, Scotland is starting to look like the odd one out – not just in the UK but around the world. If we want a world-leading city in 2050 surely we need to look at our governance models and make sure they match up to the highest standards globally.

The debate about Edinburgh and its 2050 vision will continue and it will be up to councillors elected next May to take it forward. City council staff are to be congratulated for doing so much to engage the business community and involve them in that process. I look forward with excitement to seeing the results!