Capital must push to be part of this project and make the most of the opportunities on offer, says Jim Eadie
Glasgow. Manchester. Cardiff. Inverness. Aberdeen. All of these cities have something that Edinburgh is yet to be offered: A City Deal.
Last year, Glasgow secured a £1.13 billion City Deal in partnership with the UK and Scottish governments. After the Chancellor’s final Coalition Budget in March, he announced the UK government would open up negotiations with the Scottish and Welsh governments to allow for similar deals to be struck for the other aforementioned cities. And, after his first Conservative Budget earlier this month, we have continued to hear one of the Chancellor’s favourite phrases: “Northern Powerhouse”.
However, Edinburgh is not on the Chancellor’s radar as of yet. I know that a detailed proposal and business case first needs to be made and the Edinburgh City Council has started on this. This is, of course, good news. But it is essential for this to become a key priority over the coming months.
A City Deal on the scale of Glasgow’s has the opportunity to enhance economic growth and performance. It is envisaged the UK and Scottish governments could commit £1bn, which could unlock significant additional resources from the private sector.
Such investment could be directed at our universities, cutting-edge research at the BioQuarter and the Science Triangle, as well as identifying possibilities for business expansion, housing and light transport. The opportunities are exciting.
University investment is already mooted as part of any deal. The University of Edinburgh is in the world’s top 20 universities and is a mainstay of our city’s economy. It currently supports 23,000 jobs and recent studies have shown that it generates £9 of added value for every £1 in funding from the Scottish Government – about £1.2bn of economic added value per year. Edinburgh could go further in its university investments, which would easily have a knock-on effect to our economy that comes from both high-skilled graduates and commercialising research breakthroughs.
But this should not just be about high-end skills and jobs. Reducing inequality by up-skilling workforces in the areas of Edinburgh with low incomes and poor access to employment should also be a priority.
We already have one of the UK’s leading IT sectors (second only to London) and a dynamic business start-up scene. Over recent years, Edinburgh has seen indigenous companies such as SkyScanner, FanDuel and Rockstar North grow significantly. Extra investment would undoubtedly mean more business, more jobs, more growth and more prosperity to our city.
Take another area, housing. The projected growth in population for Edinburgh means it is not good enough simply to say demand outweighs supply. The Scottish Government and the city council are working to tackle the situation, but a City Deal would allow us to go further. New homes of all types could be built.
In transport, a City Deal could unlock the potential for new, sustainable transport links. We all know the issues with the trams, but this could be the answer for extending the transport network without having to raid the funds needed for other vital services. Could we see the extension of the trams to Leith and Newhaven? Could we ensure that as the economic opportunities expand at the BioQuarter and King’s Buildings, there is the light rail infrastructure to match?
The City Deal is an idea growing across the UK and we must ensure that Edinburgh is not left behind. That is why I am calling on all elected representatives at all levels of government and from all parties to put their differences aside and work together to reap the benefits of a City Deal.
Jim Eadie is MSP for Edinburgh Southern