Business urged to back plan

Productivity a key driver in £1billion City region bid

EICC city regionBusiness leaders and academics were today urged to support a £1 billion plan to transform the south east of Scotland economy by improving productivity and investing in infrastructure.

Six local authorities have come together to bid for a City Region deal from UK government and hope that it will leverage £3.2bn of private sector support.

Today’s event titled Accelerating Growth, was the largest of a series of engagement events between the local authorities and key partners.

Edinburgh, Fife, East Lothian, West Lothian, Fife and Borders councils are working to a tight timetable to put the deal together. It will put its submission to the Treasury in the first week of September and expects an announcement in the Autumn Statement on whether it has been successful.

Andrew Burns, leader of Edinburgh City Council told today’s gathering at the EICC that in the next 20 years the population will increase by 200,000. “This will put further strain on the housing stock and vital services, he said. “We are clearly going to have to grow our infrastructure.”

He called for some of the workforce powers being devolved to Scotland under the Smith Commission to be further devolved from Holyrood to the City Chambers.

The region has an economy valued at £33bn, but while Edinburgh is the most prosperous city in Britain outside London, the region includes some pockets of severe deprivation. Some 21% of children live in poverty, 24% in fuel poverty.

Andrew Kerr, the new chief executive of the city council, recently sealed a deal for Cornwall where he worked before taking up his new post. He said it was better to manage affairs locally rather than in London and that a similar objective was part of the south east of Scotland bid.

“It is about partnership, about the private sector and universities working together. It is not just about money but getting permission to do so.

“We have to get a deal that deals with inequalities and helps us grow.”

Mark Gregory of the EY Item Club said the firm had worked with the local authorities to put the deal together.

Audience members asked a range of questions from the inclusion of life sciences to the need to repair pavements and roads.

Steve Grimmond, chief executive of Fife Council, said there was a recognition of the part that the region’s heritage plays in the bid.

Donald Anderson a former leader of Edinburgh City Council commended the six councils for coming together in an unprecedented move that was “a tremendous achievement” in itself.

“This bid is about opportunity, not just challenge,” he said. He asked what businesses can do on a practical level to get involved.

Coun Burns said the region’s success should not be taken for granted and that money had to be spent on investing in success.

“We do have elements of division, economically and socially. Investment will help us iron out those inequalities,” he said.

Mr Grimmond said: “The conundrum for UK and Scottish governments is that despite the growth of the region there are pockets of deprivation. We need to spread the growth and increase productivity. We need business to enter into a dialogue.”

Mr Gregory said: “Part of the pitch is that if the UK is to grow this region has to grow.”




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