Andrew Burns: We’re good to grow as we look forward to 2016

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For all of the obvious challenges, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that 2015 has been another successful year for the capital city of Scotland.

Edinburgh continues to be a hugely attractive place to live, with an average of an additional 5000 people choosing to move here every single year – that’s a one per cent annual growth, which will soon see Edinburgh reach the half-million population mark.

Very few other UK cities are drawing anything like this level of population-attraction to them on a yearly basis – and, for me, it still remains the case that Edinburgh’s overall “quality of life” is what makes us stand out from the crowd.

In addition, our local economy is still outperforming all of our major UK competitors; with Edinburgh 
continuing to rank as the city with the second highest “Gross Value Added” (GVA) per resident, after London.

We also have the lowest claimant rate for Jobseeker’s Allowance – currently at less than 1.5 per cent – of any major city throughout the whole of the UK. And Edinburgh today has one of the most talented workforces in the whole of Europe – with 2015 seeing the percentage of the population of the Capital, educated to degree level or above, reaching more than 50 per cent for the first time.

And dare I mention that even the tram has had a successful year; with tram patronage increased by some 12 per cent when compared with last year, and the projected total of 5.1 million passengers for the whole of 2015 meaning that the service continues to outperform targets set in the business model.

We have also seen the submission of a £1 billion-plus City Region Deal for the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region; to both UK and Scottish governments. It’s further estimated that an additional £3.2bn of private sector investment could be leveraged, if our bid is successful. And we should know the outcome in the early months of 2016.

Turning to 2016, there is no question that the overall economic prospects for the city are positive. But that does not mean we are short of significant challenges; as perversely the success of the city economy does not translate to any direct, additional funding for the local authority.

Indeed, we face the double-whammy of an increasing population – with consequential growing demand for our services at both ends of the age-spectrum: more plus-80-year-olds than ever before, requiring more social care than ever before; and more three to five-year-olds than ever before, requiring more nursery and primary education than ever before – and the undeniable fact that our revenue-funding is now declining; all meaning that we will definitely have some difficult decisions when we set the 2016-17 budget in the early part of next year.

And inside the council, as is often the case periodically whether in the public or private sector, we are seeing the implementation of a new management structure; with a new senior management team.

But, being the eternal optimist, these are all constructive challenges to be facing . . . challenges of success and growth, not decline and stagnation.

And with a Scottish Parliament election on the horizon in May next year, we may even see the beginnings of a return of some fiscal flexibility to local authorities; with a serious debate already raging about the future of the council tax and how local government generally is currently being funded.

So clearly, there is much to look forward to but also much work to do in the year ahead.

And I do wish you and yours, the very best for a happy and successful 2016.

Andrew Burns is leader of Edinburgh City Council