Successful Covid recovery depends on Edinburgh Council being willing to listen to business – Iain Whyte
We all expect the Trades Fortnight to be a quiet time in Edinburgh politics with the council in recess and many leaving the city for the school summer holidays.
This year was rather different with a major manifesto launch from the Edinburgh Business Resilience Group.
The plea is to kickstart the local economy post-Covid and I liked a lot of what I read. What I fear is that much of it may fall on deaf ears in the city’s SNP-led administration. Their track record, after all, has been abysmal.
The council’s Spaces for People traffic experiments have seen open warfare with local small businesses in our “town centres” like Stockbridge and Morningside. Meanwhile the council’s long-term transport plans will reduce bus and car access to the city centre, driving away customers.
In the Old Town, the council promoted a referendum on a Business Improvement District but was so lukewarm it wouldn’t even use it’s own vote in favour and the businesses declined the “opportunity”.
The Chamber of Commerce was once the go-to organisation which brought together large and small businesses who felt its views were valued by policymakers at both national and local levels. However, times have changed and the SNP-Labour coalition sees the business community more as an impediment than an essential partner.
A similar fate has befallen Essential Edinburgh as, despite Conservative requests, council officers don’t seem to be able to relay the views of the city centre businesses on how they intend to build back post-pandemic and what that means for office occupancy.
However, the key folly was the ditching of Marketing Edinburgh – a decision more about political spite than clear thinking. Far from the stated aim of “taking things in-house”, the result of the changes has been a complete lack of city promotion for growth and inward investment. We are also without a Convention Bureau, so nothing is being done to reinvigorate the lucrative business tourism and conference market.
The business leaders have rightly identified the need for something that looks a lot like a new Marketing Edinburgh. After all, how can we expect to compete when we are the only major European city that doesn’t have a destination marketing bureau?
The one place where I disagree with the business leaders is their proposal that a new business champion should report to the council’s chief executive. This would completely muddy the waters. Any new champion must speak truth to the power of the council and be independent of it to be successful.
So, will this SNP/Labour council listen? There might be some hope as the group includes major quasi-public sector employers like the universities and colleges and has the voluntary sector onboard. However, there are many hurdles to overcome first.
Not least of these is business support for the airport which will be seen as anathema for this coalition and its chums in the Greens. And this is an administration that seems to forget that you can’t do positive things on poverty and sustainability without the support and tax income from successful and profitable businesses.
It's absolutely clear that the council must listen if we are to have a successful restart to the economy and bring much needed life back to the city centre.
Iain Whyte is Conservative councillor for Inverleith and party group leader