Chamber has left its mark in all areas of the Capital

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Many readers must have been surprised to read of the financial difficulties that the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce is going to have to address because of problems relating to the recession.

It has to be said that many chamber members will have had to face up to similar financial pressures.

At this challenging time, I would like to make a plea to members to continue to support the chamber and I hope this article will help people understand the very valuable work that the Chamber of Commerce does for the economic wellbeing of Edinburgh.

The Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce is one of the council’s key partners. There has been a long-standing collaboration with the public and private sector to drive Edinburgh’s economic success. The chamber provides a strong voice to represent the business community. The organisation has a deep understanding of the relationship between commercial, political, social and environmental factors that face Scotland’s capital city and the wider economy.

The council is involved in a number of joint initiatives with the chamber. These have yielded many economic benefits to the city and its citizens. One example of this is the formulation of Edinburgh’s Economic Strategy – a document that will shape development across the city over the next five years.

The chamber is also a key delivery partner for the Economic Development Service for all business advice delivered in the city. During the period 2010/11 this has included: 1502 new start-up businesses supported, 1701 “meet the advisor” sessions, 194 events and an ongoing invaluable stakeholder management and advocacy role.

Additionally, since March of this year, the chamber has delivered the Inspiring Enterprise programme in partnership with the council’s Economic Development Service.

This programme comprises a series of business events reinforced with one-to-one advisory support, designed to complement the service provided by Business Gateway. To date the programme has delivered: three successful masterclass events focused on the themes of business growth and internationalisation that were attended by more than 100 businesses; five “growing business” events focused on businesses with high growth potential, which were delivered in partnership with local legal and accountancy practices. These events have been attended by a total of 238 businesses.

The programme has included advisory support to a total of 127 businesses. This has been targeted at those businesses with growth potential but which have been unable to access support through existing initiatives such as the Growth Pipeline or other Scottish Enterprise services. In addition to general advice, the majority of support focuses on assisting firms to access finance, 73 firms have been referred to Business Mentoring programmes, 73 to Executive Skillsbank and 65 for additional support.

The chamber is a key player in the city’s job strategy at all levels. This includes initiatives from the Executive Skills Bank, mentoring programmes and the provision of invaluable links to employers with corporate social responsibility to recruit longer term, traditionally “hard-to-reach” trainees. The organisation has been able to contribute commercial expertise and experience and provide key contacts.

The chamber is a key partner in our Local Investment Partnership, helping to support and provide opportunities for new investors into the city. It also plays a vital role in the outward-facing promotion of the city with an advocacy and ambassadorial part to play.

The chamber is a strong supporter of partnership working. It participates in a wide range of essential stakeholder groups that represent all sectors of the business community: Edinburgh Business Forum, Retail Policy Group, Essential Edinburgh (Business Improvement District), Tram Animation Group, the Development Forum (planning matters).

The chamber has led on the green investment and renewables agenda for the city, demonstrating the practical value of environmental initiatives for Edinburgh and its citizens.

The chamber has helped to support innovative approaches to the management and improvement of Edinburgh city centre and its local shopping centres. It has actively participated in the development of Business Improvement Districts in the city and worked closely with us to help devise a strategy to improve the vitality and performance of Edinburgh’s local designated town centres.

This is already yielding tangible results for residents and businesses including: public realm improvements in Portobello and the opening of the successful Business Advisory Hub at McDonald Road Library. In addition, banners and pavement roundels have been designed to strengthen the identity of Leith Walk and the West End Village. Empty shop units have been animated with artwork in the West End, Portobello and Lauriston Place. These activities help to combat graffiti and antisocial behaviour and to improve the visual aspect of our neighbourhoods.

I would not like people to think that it is all sweetness and light between the chamber and the council – it does act as a critical friend, putting across its members’ concerns about changes in council policy or the way we deliver services.

In these challenging financial times, this is needed more than ever.

n Councillor Tom Buchanan is the convener of the economic development committee at Edinburgh City Council