Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce is bringing businesses together to help drive the recovery - Liz McAreavey

I imagine there was a collective slumping of shoulders following the First Minister’s announcement last Tuesday. Understandable caution regarding health and saving lives, but at what price to wellbeing and the economy? The very people this government want to protect are the one’s losing jobs and livelihoods and will be hardest hit by prolonged lockdown that lags behind our neighbours south of the border.

Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 7:00 am
Liz McAreavey, Chief Executive, Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce

Whilst savings have increased during the pandemic – ten per cent of GDP sits in people’s bank accounts – it is largely the better-off who have reduced expenditure on holidays and leisure to accumulate that pot of pent-up spend. The poorer in society always had less disposable income and now have lost jobs and income, many from admittedly lower-paid sectors like hospitality and retail, but essential jobs supported in the main by caring businesses trying to make things work. Without doubt there is work to be done on bringing people out of poverty and in-work poverty, but we need to do that together.

Now, with the vaccine rollout pressing ahead and with case numbers finally showing some cause for optimism, it is time to look ahead to a period of economic and social recovery.

The Edinburgh Business Resilience Group is looking at how business can work with policy-makers to provide ideas and solution to deliver a fairer, sustainable and resilient economy, addressing inclusion, fair work and net zero carbon, critical elements for Scotland’s future.

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And in timely fashion, as we see the light at the end of the tunnel, as dim as that light looks at the moment, now is the time to come together, support each other and get our game plans ready.

With 17 events over five days, Edinburgh’s Business Festival, the first for our city, has been organised by the Chamber of Commerce to bring the business community together to connect, inform and inspire. And after such a difficult year, coming together has never been so important.Our programme, which began yesterday, includes virtual networking sessions, high-profile keynote speakers, lively panel discussions, practical workshops and even a virtual business awards to celebrate achievement even in these times.

We were delighted to welcome Fiona Hyslop MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture to give the opening keynote address to kick off the event. Other keynote speakers include Graeme Farrington, UK and Ireland MD of innocent drinks who will talk not only of the organisations plans to grow, but as a B Corp organisation, also of their determination to do good at the same time. Katie Milligan, soon to take up the role of Chair of the Openreach Scotland Board, is another who will provide the event with food for thought and update on how Scotland becomes more digitally connected when she addresses the festival on tomorrow.

The event has had no shortage of engagement from our city and Scottish business leaders, with many taking part in panel discussions and workshops looking at the importance of connectivity to driving commerce, at how we develop the skills we will need in future, and at the vital role technology and data will play. We’ll also look at how we create sustainable businesses, and how we build the drive to net zero carbon into future business growth.

Importantly for our city and its international reputation and standing as a cultural capital, we will look at the future of live events, with our world-leading festivals and international-class venues actively participating in the discussions.

Finally, the event will include our annual business awards – for the first time delivered digitally. This annual celebration of the innovation and dynamism of our city’s businesses has become an important date in the business calendar, and we were determined that this year the show would go on.

Inclusion, Fair Work and Net Zero Carbon are the strategic goals of both local and national government. To achieve these, we will need businesses to thrive. And we need a plan.

A closer relationship between government and business would enable a greater collaboration towards a deliverable solution.

Business needs a boost. And we need a plan. To do that, we need to come together. Hopefully, through the Business Festival, the Business Awards, and the work of the Business Resilience Group, the Chamber is playing its part in the effort to make the recovery happen for all of our citizens.

Liz McAreavey, Chief Executive, Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce