One of the things we never do enough of in Edinburgh is to trumpet our successes.
Edinburgh doesn’t get the recognition it deserves for the many wonderful things that are achieved. And one of the toughest things to get right is making sure everyone shares in what the city has to offer. Never an easy task, but the signs are that the city is getting better and better at bridging the historic divide between rich and poor. These three examples highlight how much progress is being made:
The OneCity charity which was established by former provost Lesley Hinds did a power of work in its early days to tackle poverty, but I rather got the feeling that it was going stale a few years back. Well no longer. With a new champion in the shape of Matthew Haggis the One City Trust is once again helping lead the inclusion agenda in Edinburgh. There is now a Community Endowment Fund that targets resources on those small projects that can make a big difference. Three books have now been published (that include contributions from JK Rowling and Ian Rankin amongst others), but it’s the practical projects that make a real difference.
Not only have Edinburgh Breakfast Clubs been supported, but in one notable case a Food Bank was given financial support to realise its ambition to get a new warehouse.
We all wish there wasn’t a need for Food Banks, but all of Europe has adopted the approach to help poorer people make ends meet and it is a comfort to know that Edinburgh is more than doing its bit.
Then there’s the Edinburgh Guarantee, brainchild of award winning council chief executive Sue Bruce. AIt’s a simple idea that works with employers to ensure that young people leaving school have a guaranteed opportunity to get work or training. And it works.
So far over 200 employers have signed up, and working with the council they have delivered support for 1181 young people who have secured real jobs, apprenticeships and intern positions. Alongside it the JET (Jobs, Education and Training) Programme (brainchild of another Susan, this time the recently retired council regeneration guru Susan Milne) has successfully placed over 260 youngsters in work experience or training to make sure they’re job ready when they finally walk out of the school gates. Young people get real experience in the workplace and the employer gets a chance to see the potential they have – and they like what they see.
The first steps on the career ladder are the most important and to be able to rely on such high quality support is a fantastic achievement.
The other notable success is still in the making, but is, I believe, every bit as important. Whilst crime is falling almost everywhere, there has been a spate of serious crime and antisocial behaviour in North Edinburgh. It has been a tough time for the police since the establishment of Police Scotland and many people – me included – have been critical of how tried and tested methods of policing were dropped in favour of a “one size fits all” Scotland-wide approach that was clearly failing. At the same time the North Edinburgh community has faced a real crime wave with high levels of theft, joyriding, gang activity and youths running amok.
There are now real signs of hope. A “gold command summit” was held between the city and the police and a raft of counter measures have swung into place. More local police, wardens and a joined-up inter agency approach that will enable faster court appearances and (we hope) convictions has all been designed to make sure that the culprits realise that the party’s over. Either stop or face severe consequences. I sense that this could be a turning point for Police Scotland.
The residents in the north of the city deserve no less and hopefully the streets will be much safer and quieter very soon. Much has been spent on regenerating North Edinburgh and other parts of the city, but without streets that are safe – and are seen to be so – the regeneration can never fully succeed. Policing may not seem to be at the cutting edge of regeneration, but it absolutely is. With crime falling and record numbers of police there has been no better opportunity to focus on driving crime down in some of our most disadvantaged areas.
Edinburgh is sometimes characterised as a conservative and divided city, and there can be no doubt that divisions do exist. But they do in all cities, and as unemployment drops to nearly two per cent, we may soon be in a city where there are again three jobs for every jobseeker.
People are being helped where they face the challenges of poverty, and vitally to get them into jobs. There is probably better support for getting into work in Edinburgh than there has ever been. Because of that there will be opportunities for all ages and backgrounds in Edinburgh that most other cities simply cannot match.
Combined with the breathtaking beauty of the city and its surrounding areas, Edinburgh is nearer that “One City” vision than most, and delivers a quality of life that is second to none. Far from being a backward looking and conservative city, Edinburgh is actually delivering real and permanent change. The aim of being a city where people of all incomes and none can live side by side in harmony, and can share a high quality of life in one of the best urban environments in the world has actually never been closer to being realised.
Let’s open doors to wider audience
It is no secret that one of my favourite places in the city is Inch Park. So it was inevitable I suppose that I would be there with Benji the black Lab when the fabulous Doors Open Day took place. Inch House is a stunning Category A listed building set squarely in the park and I was pleasantly surprised to see a huge crowd of visitors milling around. Even more of a surprise was to see two Asians (presumably Japanese tourists) walking down the road that leads to a majestic view of Arthur’s Seat with cameras in hand. They took copious pictures and even waved to me and the dog before heading in to see the house.
Doors Open Day has always been a massive success, but I had always seen it as a chance for Edinburgh residents to see some of their most cherished buildings. Time perhaps then to rethink its potential – and even to rethink the potential of places like Inch House and Park for tourism.