Engaging with business must be honoured​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ - Liz McAreavey

Edinburgh’s businesses will be watching the results of this week’s council elections unfold with even keener interest than usual.

As a combination of adverse business conditions continues to challenge the pace and strength of our economic bounce back, it is worth the candidates taking note that the recovery will happen on their watch.

And as Government’s at local and national level seek to deliver ambitious targets around tackling climate change and delivering a just transition to a more sustainable economy we need our policy-makers at all levels to live up to pre-election pledges to engage, engage, engage with the businesses who will be vital to a successful outcome.

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Edinburgh Chamber, through the Edinburgh Business Resilience Group’s ‘Prospectus for Growth’ has engaged with political leaders to reset the relationship between local and national government and the business community in Edinburgh, and there are some encouraging signs that the message is getting through.

The recently published Scottish Government’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation, setting out its priorities for the decade ahead, is to create a governance structure to ensure delivery will be co-led by business and will have immediate Ministerial access.

And at a local level, City of Edinburgh Council is committed to engaging with the Chamber through a programme of briefings and meetings that will help foster increased mutual understanding and communication.

This is all positive, but follow through is essential, because at a time when we are facing into some enormous global challenges – such as tackling climate change and inequality – our businesses, resilient and innovative as they are, face unprecedented and in many cases existential challenges.

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The combination of the impact of the covid 19 global pandemic, the complex implications of Brexit, the knock-on effects for the world’s economy of the ongoing war in Ukraine, supply chain difficulties, labour shortages in important sectors like retail and hospitality, and to cap it all, the rising cost of doing business driven by high inflation and soaring energy prices will undoubtedly mean growth and productivity are compromised, with Scotland already behind the UK average.

A hustings event run by Edinburgh Chamber in partnership with our colleagues at Essential Edinburgh saw representatives from the five major parties contesting the election, face questions on a range of key business issues – from the need to reform our increasingly outdated and unfair business rates system through to the need to create more positive advocacy around our world- renowned cultural successes, the Festivals.

And the businesses spoke with one voice in terms of their desire for more, and more meaningful, engagement with our local politicians on issues from rates to the plans for the transformation of George Street, the planning process to net zero infrastructure investment. Policies cannot be developed in isolation; businesses have much to contribute to the solutions being sought.

Businesses are committed to helping the City meet its aspirational and ambitious targets for achieving net zero carbon, and to create a just economic transition for all of our citizens. This is not something that our elected members or officials at the City of Edinburgh Council can deliver on their own. It will take a whole-system and whole city approach and businesses have a major part to play in transitioning to a green economy. 100% of respondents to our recent survey agreed they supported the 2030 Net Zero ambition, but SMEs, particularly, were struggling to make sense of the myriad of information available and had limited resources to develop sustainability plans. Much more support is needed, and there needs to be serious engagement and dialogue between business and policy- makers to manage the many tensions between current economic recovery and the long-term benefits of Edinburgh being a globally leading city with a just and green economy, attracting

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investment, talent, businesses and jobs. With the right investment plan for green infrastructure and green skills, we can unlock the massive potential of the city and the opportunities for future growth and economic prosperity.

The will is there, but business needs to be part of creating the solutions. We need policy-makers who understand the critical issues faced by business, who are prepared to be bold and innovative in helping create an environment that supports business growth and job creation. We need to see real and tangible help in tackling the skills and labour gaps that exist, and we want to see a far greater commitment to promoting the city in terms of both visitors and investment.

At our hustings event, all five major parties pledged to work with us to create a much more coherent approach to resolving the key issues our wonderful city faces. Let us hope these pledges become reality.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Liz McAreavey, chief executive, Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce

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