Ross Martin: Just the job to bring riots to the Capital?

Unemployment is on the rise in Edinburgh
Unemployment is on the rise in Edinburgh
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On the face of it, the latest employment statistics make for pretty dull reading in the Capital, as Edinburgh doesn’t feature as either the highest or lowest in any of the touchstone categories when viewed within the Scottish context.

However, a delve deeper into the array of statistics, which the Scottish Government produces, sees an emerging picture that local politicians seeking to secure their own employment after May would be wise to focus on.

As we recover from the shock of the wildfire riots that spread across English cities, and debate the causes of these localised – yet linked – conflagrations, it is instructional to note that some of the potential economic and social conditions that created the backdrop for the unrest down south are beginning to make an appearance in these figures analysing the jobs market here in Scotland’s Capital.

For example, even though Edinburgh continues to drive the region’s economy as a whole, and as a result keeps increasing the numbers of workers it sucks in from surrounding areas, unemployment amongst its own residents rose last year by two per cent.

Similarly, the rate of “economically inactive” adults within the city boundary also jumped by two per cent, bringing the total of those local adults not playing an active part in running this engine of the national economy to 25 per cent.

Now sitting at one in four of the working population, the number of economically inactive adults in the Capital is similar to that of Dundee (24 per cent), getting closer to Glasgow (29 per cent) and is way above Aberdeen (18 per cent).

In addition to the obvious point of oil energising the economy of the north-east, can we conclude from these figures, which demonstrate the phenomenon of cities sucking people in for work, that this process of “net in-migration” has the effect of squeezing out those on the periphery of the local jobs market?

Is it possible to extrapolate from this data, broken down into local authority areas, but no further, that with the exception of Aberdeen, our big cities and their monolithic peripheral housing estates are home to an increasingly isolated and lost generation?

On the face of it, without looking too hard, a number of signs of decay are there for all to see. This is certainly true if my recent detour through Wester Hailes is anything to go by.

In the “Calders” estate, where I spent many happy, formative years, I was shocked to see how – physically – the place has deteriorated, and this before public expenditure cuts really start to bite. Passing along my old street, and those of my childhood friends and neighbours, the picture was depressing, worrying and quite alarming. It looked so different from before, not just tired, but exhausted, as if the very life was being sucked out of it.

A look at my old school, the ground-breaking Wester Hailes Education Centre (WHEC), confirmed my fears. Where once this vibrant high school, operating in a state-of-the-art multi-million-pound campus was home to around 1400 pupils, the roll has dropped to an unsustainable 400.

Where are all the families? How can this beating heart of the local community continue to energise its body, mind and spirit if its roll has been allowed to decline to such a catastrophic extent?

Is it not obvious to politicians of all parties that, when the lifeblood of this community and many others dotted around our Capital is allowed to drain away then there is every chance that it will be replaced by something more sinister?

What can be done to reverse this seemingly endless spiral of decline? How can we ensure that those living on the edge of our society are protected, nurtured and supported to play their full part in these engines of our economy: our cities?

In short, we need to build more stuff – more houses, more workplaces, and, yes, even more tram lines. A start is being made at Sighthill and other parts of the city, but more needs to be done.

We need to invest in modern infrastructure that will not only enable people to get to work but, critically, get people into work. These projects will provide jobs that will in turn give our people hope and, once economically active, develop that essential sense of pride not just in themselves, but in the communities in which they live.

When rioters and thieves ransacked local businesses in English cities, they did so without fear (of the police) or favour (for their neighbours). Edinburgh and Scotland’s other cities must accelerate their efforts, recognise that places like Wester Hailes are still “Full of Potential”, as the slogan used to trumpet, and get this job done now.

n Ross Martin is director of the Centre for Scottish Public Policy (and a proud ex-pupil of Sighthill Primary School and the High School at WHEC).