Andrew Burns: Scotland’s cities can drive economy

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THE “Scottish Cities Alliance” is the unique collaboration of Scotland’s seven cities – Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Stirling, Perth and Inverness – and the Scottish Government; working together to collectively promote the country’s economic potential.

And just back in March of this year, the council leaders of the seven cities all met in Perth and signed a renewed agreement, which is entitled: Scotland’s Seven Cities: A Shared Vision for Scotland’s Success.

The document recognises that Scotland’s seven cities are the collective; economic, cultural, social and intellectual powerhouses of our nation, and operate in a global environment; and it was acknowledged that by combining their strengths and celebrating their diversity, the cities can enhance their role in stimulating, sustaining and delivering Scotland’s future economic growth.

As the current Chair of the Scottish Cities Alliance, I was delighted that we were able to reach such a 
collective agreement on a shared, long-term vision of a successful Scotland as a place to work, live, innovate, study and visit.

And indeed, international evidence is growing on the important role cities play in creating sustainable economic growth. There is an increasingly shared understanding amongst policy makers and academics internationally that when cities, and their respective city regions, are working effectively they have the potential to lift economic performance and general well-being at a national level.

And globally, governments and investors also increasingly see cities as key drivers of both regional and national economies, whilst also offering solutions to the social and environmental challenges of the 21st century.

To that end, the Scottish Cities Alliance has also developed an Investment Prospectus, which outlines some £10 billion worth of potential propositions across the seven cities of Scotland; the Alliance has thus brought the seven city investment requirements into one document to allow investors to have all the information they need at their fingertips.

Split into sectors, the 53-page Investment Prospectus allows prospective investors to go straight to their area of interest and expertise whether that is hotel and leisure, industrial, office, residential or mixed use, highlighting the great range of investor, developer and occupier opportunities spread across the Scottish cities. The vast breadth of opportunity available highlights Scotland’s cities as modern, innovative places in which to invest and do business.

But to deliver on the full potential of this programme, our cities do require empowerment and strategic support from government – at all levels – to ensure they maximise their assets, infrastructure, skills and opportunities, for all of Scotland’s people.

Cities do need the freedom to take significant decisions locally, to raise funds locally, and to invest locally in order to create jobs and economic growth; and thus to deliver services which are tailored to cities and the wider city regions.

I believe there are seven key areas of responsibility that the cities need to have a sense of ownership over – and in no particular order, these are:

1: Infrastructure to deliver economic growth through improved digital and transport connectivity

2: Development opportunities that will attract investors and secure investment, create jobs and stimulate economic growth in cities

3: Investment which is innovative and funding which is anchored locally

4: Creative centres driving productivity, knowledge and culture

5: Sustainability and smart cities initiatives

6: Tackling inequality, delivering social justice, building partnerships and playing a lead role in decentralising democracy

7: International promotion to be gateways on the global stage

There are huge benefits to be gained through the delivery of these responsibilities at a local level; and it’s reassuring that the Scottish Government is committed to working with the cities to drive this agenda forward.

And I do look forward to this whole agenda continuing to feature prominently in policy debate, as we approach the next set of Holyrood elections in May 2016.

The seven cities are meantime learning and growing stronger, thanks to the current collaboration through the Scottish Cities Alliance; and with ongoing support from the Scottish Government, I’m confident we’ll see our cities and their regions continue to power Scotland’s economy for the wider benefit of all.

• Andrew Burns is leader of Edinburgh City Council