SNP-led Edinburgh Council’s attempt to blame UK immigration policies for labour shortages doesn't make sense – John McLellan

Edinburgh by Numbers is a handy document, a regular snapshot of how well Edinburgh is doing compared to other cities, usually producing a slew of stories about what a great place it is to live.
Edinburgh needs more homes, businesses and workers (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)Edinburgh needs more homes, businesses and workers (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Edinburgh needs more homes, businesses and workers (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Most residents would agree. Compact, but with world-class facilities and events few places of comparable size can boast. A landscape few cities can match, with the great outdoors minutes away. Leading universities attracting talent from around the world.

But perhaps its biggest advantage is the amount of government money which pours in from the UK and Scottish governments to fund the Capital’s institutions which have burgeoned since devolution.

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Queen Elizabeth House is built on the site of a derelict gasworks and bus garage and will be home to 3,000 UK Government staff, while the Scottish Government now employs nearly 200 people in public relations at a cost of £39m, double what it was four years ago.

No-one should be surprised that Edinburgh is doing well because thousands of people working in public sector roles enjoy higher wages than ever before, much stronger job security than the private sector and generous final salary pension benefits, of which most other workers can only dream.

However, it’s those other workers who must pay for it all, and that’s where the problems start. For example, while financial services is still the biggest non-public sector, the number of significant non-hospitality business investments by major employers has been low. Corporate Edinburgh has shrunk compared to 25 years ago and big decisions are being taken elsewhere.

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Scotland’s proportion of businesses per population is the third lowest in the UK, and Edinburgh’s “business density” is lower than Bristol, Leeds and Manchester which don’t have the benefits of being capitals.

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The number of business failures has accelerated during the pandemic and the start-up rate has slumped. Although such company birth-and-death rates are not unique to Edinburgh, no other local authority area that I know has adopted a deliberate policy of attacking its business base.

In its desperation to tackle the housing shortage, the council has earmarked sites that are home to some 400 businesses which would either have to close or relocate. At the same time, it has re-allocated land previously expected to be reserved for commercial use to housing.

Even so, the authority still hasn’t allocated anywhere near enough land to meet housing demand.

The council’s SNP leadership is still blaming UK immigration policies for causing a labour shortage which apparently holds back the city’s commercial development, but at the same time has no plan to cope with the projected population growth.

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It’s all very well to say that the city wants to attract more people, and to recognise it needs to build all the infrastructure needed to cope with growth of maybe another 100,000 people, but when the opportunity arose to produce a plan which met those needs, the council’s response was to run away from the considerable challenge it posed.

I happen to agree that the UK Government needs to address its immigration policies to meet labour shortages in specific places and sectors, but local authorities must meet their side of the bargain too.

Edinburgh can’t open the gates to thousands of new citizens if it hasn’t got enough homes for the existing population, and that’s not the UK Government’s fault.

John McLellan is a Conservative councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston

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