Helen Martin: Trickle-down effect leaves city parched

How much of the income derived from tourism actually stays in Edinburgh? Picture: Jane Barlow
How much of the income derived from tourism actually stays in Edinburgh? Picture: Jane Barlow
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IT’S nice to know that Edinburgh has been ranked as one of the most sustainable cities on the planet by specialist forecasting firm Arcadis.

But isn’t it also blindingly obvious, as their report pointed out, that the city could be undone by the huge gap that exists here between rich and poor?

We are “home to one of the UK’s most productive and qualified workforces” meaning there are high levels of prosperity among “educated classes and white collar workers”. But we are also home to the Capital’s have-nots living in under-privileged areas, depending on food banks, and coping with a shortage of affordable and social housing in a city where the demand from private tenants is so strong that it’s almost impossible to find any decent accommodation for less than £500 a month.

It was once believed that as a city became wealthier, a trickle-down effect would benefit everyone. In the days of profitable industry, manufacturing which required a valued and skilled work force, trade unions, family businesses, and banks whose job was to help their clients make more money rather than purely swell their own coffers, that might have been true.

Now the service sector dominates, offering low-paid jobs in call centres and data inputting. Rather than profits being based on what’s left after business overheads – such as decent wages for staff – have been paid out, companies claim paying living wages or ensuring staff salaries rise faster than living costs would lead to closure. They fail to see that if they can’t cover fair pay, they shouldn’t be in business in the first place.

Tackling all that in a free-market, hyper-capitalist society is no easy task, made worse by spin and gobbledygook pumped out by the industries who really are doing well and blithely assume that helps everyone else.

In Edinburgh’s case, tourism is thriving with estimates stating it will, by 2020, bring £1.5 billion into the city every year. But where does it go? Ten new hotels have been built in the last few years offering an extra 1400 rooms. Look round the hotels in Edinburgh and figure out how many of them are locally-owned and how many belong to national or international chains. How much of that income stays in the city rather than going to the company accounts in London or elsewhere?

Increasing visitors and spending is said to have supported 3822 new jobs. But hospitality work in hotels or bars and restaurants, seasonal employment, shop workers and most jobs dependant on tourism, are notoriously low paid and often part-time. Add to that the contribution the public (via the council and other bodies) pays towards staging festivals and attractions, cleaning streets and appealing to tourists, not to mention the tourist “population” pushing prices up, and it’s hard to see who benefits significantly apart from those who own taxis, bars, restaurants, shops, B&Bs or hotel groups.

Service industries which offer a great many jobs, but on low wages are not the answer.

We need better paid jobs in a variety of sectors to reduce the gap, more production whether it’s trade, factory, creative or artisan-based, a higher-skilled workforce, a significant tourist tax, cheaper housing and a much higher living wage than anything proposed so far if we are to avoid becoming a divided city with Dickensian problems.

Preaching to the converted

DOES the SNP really want its survey on independence to deliver the honest views of two million people in Scotland? Or is it just after affirmation from its own membership?

Party members can fill in their answers online, but they have also been issued by post with bundles of paper surveys to hand out to as many folk as possible. The return address is SNP HQ. It doesn’t take a political genius to know that no-one with a Unionist bent will respond to that. Nor will it offer the SNP anything other than their own members’ opinions.

The questions aren’t particularly loaded and there are non-independence options. If the surveys had been returned to an objective third party to process, the exercise might have been worthwhile. As it stands, the only respondents will be Yes voters.

Clip the selfish parents’ wings

ANOTHER unnamed British tourist in Spain has been given a suspended sentence for leaving her child alone to go out on the razzle. Staff in a Majorca hotel, alerted by other guests, found the seven-year-old boy abandoned and crying in his room. Police searched for the mother in vain and arrested her when she returned – at breakfast time.

After all the publicity that surrounded the tragic disappearance of Madeleine McCann in the Algarve when her parents hadn’t even left the complex, how could any mum do such a thing?

Worse, if they can do so in a foreign country, how often does it happen at home? Such women are a national disgrace. Removing their kids might be going too far, but taking away their passports seems like a good idea.

Coward’s way out

STEALING council tax from one area to pay for schools in another is undemocratic, cowardly, and plain wrong. If the Government wants to introduce a new, extra, national education tax it should do so in its own name, at its own risk, not mess up local democracy.