Celebrating West Lothian’s transforming economic miracle - Donald Anderson
Jim Henderson, the council’s Business Development Manager, pointed out that every full percentage point of unemployment represented 1000 people. Mr Henderson was careful to highlight that challenges around wage rates, child poverty and food and fuel insecurity remain, but he was right to be proud and the story of West Lothian’s renaissance is a remarkable one.
I well remember in the mid 1980s being at a meeting addressed by Linlithgow MP Tam Dalyell. He was speaking just after just receiving the news that Polkemmet Colliery was to close. The news hadn’t been made public, but the grief and despair at the meeting was palpable. At the time many West Lothian communities had been suffering unemployment rates of more than 20 per cent for years and there was no sign of hope at that time for residents without work or for communities devastated by mass unemployment.
Before local government reorganisation in the mid 1990s the then Lothian Regional Council and West Lothian District Council worked hard to bring new jobs and investment to West Lothian and slowly things began to change. A key factor was membership of the European Community, which offered structural funds that facilitated government grants that helped secure investment. These grants were topped up with council support to help make West Lothian an even more attractive place to invest. Companies also chose West Lothian, not just because of the grant funding, but because it gave them access to the European Single Market. The investment flowed.
Indeed, so successful was the investment in new technology companies like Motorola that thousands of high-tech jobs came to West Lothian and the transformation began. At local government reorganisation I headed up economic development in Edinburgh and had wanted to tempt a very talented council official Jim Dickson to run economic development in the Capital.
However, West Lothian Council was quick off the mark and appointed him there. It made an excellent appointment. Jim, alongside the council chief executive Alex Linkston and a generation of smart West Lothian councillors in all parties and council officers, helped drive further success in the area. As well as laying claim to being the capital of ‘Silicon Glen’, the area boasted a transformed town centre in Livingston and there began an array of housing development.
Stuart Borrowman was a council officer and is still an elected member in West Lothian. His book ‘Capital of Silicon Glen, West Lothian Transformed for Good’, didn’t get the recognition it deserved because almost immediately after its publication ‘Silicon Glen’ began to leave West Lothian. However, it left a West Lothian that was much stronger than before.
So, West Lothian Council is quite right to trumpet its success. Communities now thrive where before there was endemic unemployment and despair. Fantastic new communities are being created in places like Winchburgh, where new green spaces and leisure facilities are built into the housing as a matter of course and West Lothian provides a quality of life unimaginable just a generation ago.
Politicians and council officers don’t always get gushing praise, but West Lothian is a glowing example of how successful they can be.
Indeed, West Lothian’s economic miracle is a shining example of success for all of Scotland.