Over the last year or so, I’ve been delighted to work closely with colleagues from our neighbouring Local Authorities, to develop a City Region Deal bid, the details of which are now being negotiated with both UK and Scottish governments.
The Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal is a mechanism for accelerating growth by pulling in significant government investment. By investing this funding in infrastructure, skills and innovation, our economic performance could be significantly improved, which would not only generate funds to pay back this initial investment but also draw in additional funding from the private sector.
It is also about greater autonomy and decision-making powers for the region to help us deliver public services more effectively and to tackle inequality and deprivation. But it’s not only Edinburgh, and its neighbours, who are developing such a City Region approach – many of Scotland’s major cities are doing likewise. So, as current Chair of the Scottish Cities Alliance, I was delighted to see the launch last week of a new report entitled Empowering City Government.
The Scottish Cities Alliance is a unique collaboration of Scotland’s seven cities, working together to promote the country’s economic potential. Collectively, Scotland’s seven cities – Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Perth and Stirling – contribute more than half of Scotland’s GVA and provide more than 60 per cent of the nation’s workforce.
And the council leaders of these seven main cities have now issued a collective call for a new working relationship with both the UK and Scottish governments to allow them to reach their full economic potential.
The Empowering City Government report argues that only a fundamental shake-up of existing arrangements will allow them to compete with other cities. It points specifically to the challenges that Scottish cities face from their English counterparts who are “gaining a competitive advantage” as a result of their City Region and Devolution deals. The report contains a four-point plan which, if given the go-ahead, could see the cities secure historic new powers over tax, spending and the development of infrastructure projects.
In its blueprint for unprecedented change, the report argues for a new cross-city partnership with the likes of Transport Scotland with cities sharing in key policy decision-making. It also puts forward plans for closer working ties with other national infrastructure bodies, like Scottish Water and Zero Waste Scotland. Such a partnership would see local government, central government, national agencies and business stakeholders working collaboratively.
Scotland’s seven cities are committed to driving forward economic growth, so we can continue to promote ourselves on the international stage as attractive, modern places to invest and do carry out business with. Fundamental to this new approach are a number of shared objectives which include improving connectivity and infrastructure, setting a diverse tax system across Scotland, improving our communities and a radical change to economic development.
The report thus calls for a new joined-up approach to foster enterprise and skills more effectively, and for cities to be given a bigger say on migration policy in the context of supporting higher and further education. The report also argues for cities to have a say in the policy development and execution of welfare powers, as well as more responsibility for creating polices around health and social care.
I am now looking forward to early discussions with both the Scottish and UK governments to take these proposals forward for the benefit of all our cities, and their surrounding regions.
• Cllr Andrew Burns is leader of the City of Edinburgh Council