Andrew Burns: We prosper but there’s room to grow

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Edinburgh is the second most prosperous city in the UK, outside of London. As council leader, and as an Edinburgh resident, I am immensely proud of this fact.

At the heart of the wider region, Edinburgh is an international knowledge capital, and has a very close relationship with its surrounding areas, focused on the provision of labour supply, housing, leisure amenities, and an increasing level of research and development activity.

Across the region, Fife has forged a successful reputation in renewable energy technology and manufacturing, and West Lothian has developed new science and technology capabilities. In the Scottish Borders, Midlothian and East Lothian there are a range of internationally orientated companies located in their towns involved in textiles, light engineering, electronics and medical products, as well as a strong life/bio/veterinary sciences presence anchored in the higher education sector. The region is a premier area for cultural and outdoor tourism and leisure activities. It is also the home to five top performing UK universities and a growing education sector.

As well as these strengths, the region continues to be held back by issues of deep-rooted inequality and needs to overcome significant 
infrastructure constraints and meet connectivity challenges if it is to fulfil its growth potential.

In the light of these strengths and constraints, it is crucial that the region makes a step change in economic growth by seeking a City Deal with Scottish and UK governments and establishing an associated Infrastructure Fund, with a complementary skills package.

Additionally, we simply cannot afford to stand still. City regions across the UK, and the rest of the world, are bringing forward exciting proposals to drive forward investment plans, to deliver their own step change in economic performance.

And here in the Capital, I’m pleased to confirm that we do have ambitious plans to secure a £1 billion-plus City Deal for Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region. It is further estimated that an additional £3.2bn of private sector investment could be leveraged, if our bid is successful.

We are currently working in close partnership with our neighbouring local authorities to grow the city region’s economy, by generating tens of thousands of new jobs, which would in turn be hugely beneficial for the rest of Scotland and UK as a whole.

At the heart of this proposition is the desire to secure additional substantial funding for Edinburgh, the Borders, Fife, Midlothian and East and West Lothian councils, in priority areas for investment such as transport, housing, economic regeneration, energy and digital connectivity.

It is crucially important that while doing this we also tackle the pockets of inequality, and other constraints, that threaten to hold the region back.

According to the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation 2012, more than 12 per cent of the region’s population is among the 20 per cent most deprived in Scotland.

So whilst the unemployment rate for the area, as a whole, remains around the Scottish average, there are localities with persistent high unemployment that must be tackled.

Skills are another area which needs creative thinking. While Edinburgh is one of the most highly skilled cities in the UK, with 42 per cent of the population educated to degree level or above, the regional picture is more mixed. In areas such as construction, healthcare and tourism, we need more skilled workers to ensure that, in the decades to come, the wider city region has a competitive edge to help us meet the challenges of a growing and ageing population.

Any investment would be supported by a complementary package of skills and innovation measures, such as business-led training academies in key growth sectors.

Our next step will be to seek UK and Scottish government agreement on the development of a detailed proposition, which will ensure that we continue to grow, and at the same time reduce inequalities across one of Europe’s most successful city region economies.

Assuming a positive response from ministers, detailed work – in partnership with representatives from both governments – on prioritising potential investments would continue throughout 2015.

And by early next year, there is every prospect of a multi-billion-pound City Deal being in place.

Councillor Andrew Burns is leader of Edinburgh City Council.