Sarah Boyack: Ideal chance to tackle inequalities

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Edinburgh is Scotland’s capital and the most productive city in the country, but behind our economic success there are deep inequalities.

Barely a week goes by without stories highlighting the strain on our public services, from schools to care homes to the NHS.

Meanwhile, my own inbox is full of stories from families struggling to find a home, worried about welfare and concerned about crime in our communities.

While these issues are replicated across Scotland, Edinburgh faces its own unique challenges.

Over the next 25 years, our population will increase at three times the national average. That’s a projected 120,000 extra people in our city with little indication of where the resources will come from to ensure adequate housing and services.

Just this week it was reported by the Evening News that our school estate would need to be overhauled to cope with the demand from the new housing the Scottish Government requires from the city’s local development plan. Housing developers won’t provide the multi-million pound investment that’s needed and the city doesn’t have the cash.

There is an urgent need for both the Scottish and UK governments to 
recognise the scale of the challenge facing the Capital.

You don’t have to look far to see where resources are already being stretched. In our NHS, access to local GPs, waiting times in A&E and patients stuck in hospital beds are just some of the pressure points, while council services and voluntary groups are being squeezed by reduced funding.

Then there are the stories people bring to me which don’t reach the headlines. The family whose autistic son had to wait a year for the mental health support he needed, or the elderly father who had to wait more than seven hours for an ambulance when his doctor had referred him to hospital.

The message to the Scottish and UK governments is that our city is straining at the seams and lacks the resources to properly address the challenges we face.

That’s why the proposed Edinburgh and Lothians City Deal is such an important opportunity.

Cities like Glasgow, Leeds and Liverpool have been able to sit down with surrounding authorities and set out a vision for the future which is funded and addresses their specific local needs. They have been able to negotiate new funding for infrastructure to support training, economic and transport investment with the prospect of creating thousands of new jobs.

In Edinburgh, IT and engineering are two areas where companies are crying out for qualified recruits with the advanced skills to fill their vacancies. Our tourism and service sectors need young people with the talent and enthusiasm to be the public face of our global city.

The opportunity offered by the City Deal to create new jobs would help those currently excluded from the economic success generated in the city.

We need urgent action to address deep-seated inequality and the cost of living crisis affecting thousands of families. For Edinburgh, investment in affordable, quality housing has to be a top priority so people working here can afford a roof over their head. But we must also build a fairer economy with more opportunities for young people to succeed, a ban on exploitative zero-hours contracts and action to make work pay through the living wage.

Sarah Boyack is a Labour MSP for the Lothian region