John McLellan: A ra-ra read, but the UK is still our best customer

The Edinburgh by Numbers information pack suggests the city is faring pretty well in turbulent times. Picture: Scott Taylor
The Edinburgh by Numbers information pack suggests the city is faring pretty well in turbulent times. Picture: Scott Taylor
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The most prosperous UK city outside London, the lowest unemployment, the highest average disposable income, adding the greatest value to the economy; yes there is plenty to cheer in the new Edinburgh by Numbers information pack published by the city council this week.

Aimed at investors and entrepreneurs, its 48 pages are packed with graphics and key information in an easily accessible snapshot of how well the city is faring amidst what are extremely turbulent political and economic times.

27 per cent of people use Lothian Buses' services every day. Picture: Jane Barlow

27 per cent of people use Lothian Buses' services every day. Picture: Jane Barlow

And judging by this document, it is faring pretty well. Leaving London aside, Edinburgh tops the major cities leagues for annual median earnings (£29,456, London is £33,776) and for the value each worker brings to the economy (£37,000, London £43,600). Even including London, Edinburgh’s unemployment record is by some way the best at 4.4 per cent, it has the highest proportion of highly-skilled occupations (40 per cent) and more workers with a degree level qualification or equivalent (55 per cent).

If there is a hint of weakness in the report, it is the continued heavy reliance on finance and insurance, but as it generates over £4 billion of value for the Scottish economy, so too does the rest of the country. The sector accounts for some 35,000 jobs, which at 11 per cent of the workforce is double that of any other UK city.

Edinburgh’s biggest employer is health with 50,000, but if anyone is in any doubt about the importance of tourism and universities to the local economy, the next biggest sectors after finance are accommodation and food with 31,000 and education with 30,000. As only 3500 of education staff are teachers in Edinburgh Council schools, the universities and colleges account for over 20,000 people. Fifth is the loosely defined professional, scientific and technical at 29,000, but manufacturing doesn’t even feature in the top ten categories.

Economy convener Gavin Barrie is right that the city has much to be positive about, but I’m sure he’d agree there is nothing about which to be complacent either. The document is a showcase designed to impress, not a dispassionate analysis such as January’s Outlook 2017 report from the Centre for Cities think-tank. Its look at the performance of 63 UK cities was based on much the same data as the council paper, and while not at all disastrous it is more sober than the ra-ra read of Edinburgh by Numbers. For example, Edinburgh does not make the top ten for employment, private sector job growth, proportionate number of businesses, or new patent applications. It means there is a way to go to spread the city’s economic base.

Even more telling is the city’s export record. Edinburgh is second top for the value of services exports per job, reflecting finance and insurance, but not in the top ten for exports as a whole, where Sunderland leads thanks to Nissan cars. At a surprising 56th, Edinburgh is way down the table of exporters to the EU, so while we welcome thousands of migrant workers from Poland and Spain, we sell comparatively little to their homelands. For all our European credentials, Edinburgh’s record of high productivity and low exports means only one thing: the rest of the UK is our most important market and the biggest trade by far is still flogging mortgages and insurance policies to England.

Schools’ impact on house prices doesn’t add up

New Bank of Scotland analysis of house prices claims to show the impact of the best schools, with Boroughmuir said to be responsible for a £122,000 premium compared to the surrounding area.

There may be an element of truth in this, but it’s not straightforward. For a start, being near the city centre has the advantage of a short commute, but there is also the proximity to both George Watson’s College and Heriot’s School and the analysis doesn’t capture to which school home-buyers want to be close.

Similarly in Glasgow, Jordanhill School is said to lift prices but it’s next to a railway station, a good park and just up the road from the High School of Glasgow and Kelvinside Academy.

Schools are part of the picture, but good transport, solid houses and strong local amenities are just as important.

Contradictory conclusions

Given the growing enthusiasm in some circles for the so-called Citizens Income, whereby every person regardless of age, attitude or affluence would be paid a wage by the state, the view of the Scottish Government’s ex-poverty adviser is intriguing and somewhat contradictory.

Naomi Eisenstadt is opposed to the universal winter fuel allowance for pensioners, but confusingly thinks that Child Benefit should have remained universal but better off recipients should just have been taxed. “If you give everybody the same you will always get unequal outcomes,” she told the Times this week. If only everything was as simple as just giving away tax-payers’ money.

Congestion fix is not electric

A housing plan along the canal-side at Lower Gilmore Place has reportedly caused concern amongst locals about possible increased congestion.

But judging by the artists’ impressions and the site plan, developer Glencairn Properties has a novel solution for potential problems on the street, which is to do away

with it altogether and build right up to the bank. Glencairn’s other interesting solution for congestion is to install charging points, as if electric cars somehow take up less road space. They might be better for the atmosphere, but an electric car traffic jam is still a traffic jam.