‘Good news, but we may need Plan B’

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it’s sometimes said that if you want to obtain a snapshot impression of the economic prospects of any city then you need simply count the number of building cranes on its skyline.

That’s because the state of the construction industry is held up as an early barometer of good and bad times ahead for the rest of us.

Busy sites not only mean investment in the area, they are also, quite literally, a concrete sign of growing confidence in the local jobs market – and a belief that people will be in a position to pay for the homes, shops and offices that are springing up.

So the fact that more development took place in the Capital in the last tax year than at any time since the start of the economic downturn has to be encouraging. Together with other recent pieces of good news – a record year at the Fringe; best-ever visitor figures for the Castle – this allows for a bit of quiet optimism.

However, such positive signs have to be balanced against today’s other news, that the number of people looking for work in the city has risen by seven per cent in the last year – with more public sector job cuts in the pipeline.

The big concern now is that the optimism highlighted in the former figures may have started to dry up again in recent months.

It remains true that the Capital is weathering the economic storm better than most, but there are enough worrying signs that – whatever the Chancellor believes – an economic “Plan B” might yet be necessary.

New tram line-up

one of the most important recent developments in the trams project has been the gradual involvement of the Scottish Government.

Having for years dismissed the fiasco as “Edinburgh’s problem”, ministers – and notably John Swinney – played a key role in forcing through the council U-turn which should now take the line to the city centre.

The SNP’s abrupt change of heart was formalised yesterday when it said it would stump up the £72m it had threatened to withhold. At the same time it was announced Transport Scotland officials would join the delivery team.

All of this is to be welcomed if it kick-starts this woebegone scheme. But we’ll reserve judgement, given that Alex Neil points to the M74 extension as an example of how ministers and their officials can deliver projects “early and under budget”.

That’ll be the road that back in 2001 was supposed to cost £245m and open in 2008, Alex? For the record, it opened in June this year and cost a grand total of £692m.