It’s been the longest economic downturn in modern history, and Edinburgh has lost huge chunks of its banking sector.
However, despite all of the gloom, and understandable concern about the future, the signs are that not only has Edinburgh’s economy been remarkably resilient, there is every chance that we are on the cusp of an economic renaissance.
With growth and stability returning, it would be wrong to suggest that we are completely out of the woods. There is still a huge amount of unrestructured debt out there, and it will be a drag on recovery, but there is good cause to be confident about the future.
So what is making the difference? Firstly, and despite all the problems, the cranes are starting to return.
A string of developments are moving forward that will bring jobs to people who have been suffering from the high levels of unemployment during the downturn, and that in itself creates a virtuous cycle that pumps more money and jobs into the economy.
Trams arrive soon. I know they were controversial, but they will arrive – albeit late – and the tram corridor is already seeing increased investment. That will increase as areas like the airport and Edinburgh Park are able to secure new companies and, of course, new jobs.
Caltongate has started, and will bring 2000 new jobs to one of the areas of the city where they are needed most. The Tiger development at Haymarket is also moving ahead and as these projects move forward, many more will follow as confidence grows. In total, 2860 people have been taken off the unemployment register in Edinburgh since the numbers peaked at more than 12,000 during the downturn. More will follow into work, thereby transforming their lives.
But there’s more cause for optimism than that. Tourism is in strong shape, and investors are keen to get into the city. Some people take the view that this only helps tourists, but with more than 30,000 jobs dependent on tourism in the city area, we’d be an economic wasteland without tourism. More than that, the marketing of the city is more effective than ever with the excellent new ‘This is Edinburgh’ campaign.
Elsewhere, even retail is doing well. Despite 20 per cent of retail spending now being done online, George Street is full and Princes Street is pretty full. The new Apple store and associated shops will provide a massive boost to the city centre in the near future. Rose Street and many of the shopping areas on arterial routes such as South Bridge are bouncing back with increased occupancy as well. Shopping in Edinburgh isn’t perfect yet, but in a challenging environment it is doing remarkably well, and gets better help from the now smartly run “Essential Edinburgh”.
Edinburgh never stopped being one of the best cities in the world, and it can look forward again to being one of the most vibrant and successful ones with an economic renaissance now firmly on the horizon. That is good for those of us with jobs, but it is even better news for those still suffering the pain of unemployment.
For all of us in our favourite city, the future is beginning to look a lot, lot brighter. Full employment is back on the agenda once more, and we can say with confidence that the best is yet to come for our smart people and our beautiful city.
• Donald Anderson is director of PPS Scotland and former leader of the city council