Gordon Henderson: St James must put local business first

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When the £850million St James Quarter announcement was made I was asked for a comment and surprised some people by being reasonably ‘glass half full’ about it.

There’s a lot to be worried about with this development but something needed to happen with that old shopping centre and office block, this plan is ambitious and has the potential for knock-on benefits if managed that way.

Given the level of support the development is receiving from the public purse, wouldn’t it be great if it stood up to the same procurement rigours as most major public sector contracts and used an open tendering system like the Public Contracts Scotland website? Here all businesses can see all of the contracts open to tender and have a fair chance of tendering for them. The difficult bit is not so much the main construction contracts but the second and third tier supply-chain contracts.

Now is the time to stipulate to bidders for the main contracts that we’d like opportunities for all to tender for their supply chain, and then hopefully we will see some local businesses winning work. I made this point on Twitter after the announcement last week and was pleased to get immediate support from the council’s Economic Development Convener, Frank Ross who said “Totally agree. Local jobs both directly and through the supply chain is vital.” I’d like to see as much economic value for the taxpayer pound as possible, this seven-year construction project could be a real shot in the arm for local construction businesses, plus who is building their website? Who is doing the branding and corporate identity? Who is supplying the catering for the construction staff? Where are they hiring plant and machinery from?

Our city region’s small businesses can fulfil these needs and the Federation of Small Businesses’ research has shown that every £1 spent locally with them generates an additional 63p of spending locally. A win-win surely?

On the issues to be worried about point, I hope that the council have learned from the trams’ construction disruption that they can’t simply shut down the east end of the city centre and not see a similar rapid decline in footfall faced by West End traders.

I’ve not seen any detail of the St James Quarter development so don’t know the street closures plan, sadly neither do the people who own ­businesses on Leith Street directly opposite the proposed development site. The shops and business units on Leith Street are all owned by the council and their tenants have recently been given a whopping 100 per cent rent increase so here’s hoping that their landlord is looking after their interests.

• Gordon Henderson is senior development manager with the Federation of Small Business