INTERVIEW: Greg Ward, Edinburgh City Council
‘The most satisfying thing is helping someone get a job’
Council officials don’t expect to spend a career being feted for their work. As with the elected members they know they have to take the brunt of public opprobrium. And if the public wants to take aim there is plenty of ammunition for them to use – trams, potholed roads and litter.
As far as Greg Ward is concerned it comes with the territory. No one, it seems, goes into local government wanting to be loved.
Even so, he says the public does actually show appreciation of what goes on in Britain’s town halls. It’s just that it rarely gets a mention.
“When things go wrong it gets a lot of press coverage. Surveys actually tell a different story,” he says. “The public are generally pretty content.”
The outgoing director of economy and city strategy at Edinburgh City Council is leaving after eight years to take a similar job with Westminster City Council, fulfilling a long-held desire to work in London.
He is generally positive by nature, a glass half-full optimist who prefers to look on the good things that have happened on his watch. Much of it has been to the benefit of the city and the less fortunate, he says, such as the Edinburgh Guarantee which has helped get 10,000 mainly young people into work.
Ward dislikes taking personal credit, insisting that the programmes instigated are a team effort and involve a lot of individuals who work hard and with the goal of improving life for the city’s citizens.
“We have proved ourselves a formidable team in attracting investment and using that to help vulnerable people,” he says.
“You ask me what has been the most satisfying thing over my time here and I say it is when we find a job for a resident, particularly when they have been struggling to find work.”
Aside from helping the jobless, he is proud of the way the city’s economy has been diversified, reducing its dependence on financial services, particularly since the 2008 crash, and developing a powerful technology sector which has been noticed around Europe.
He says the councillors who hired him should take a great deal of the credit because they wanted a strong focus on economic development.
“They deserve a huge amount of credit for that. My convener, Frank Ross, is passionate about building and developing the economy.”
He defends the tram project, another target of abuse for its disruption to city businesses, being late in delivery and over-budget. He could not be expected to criticise the project, but he argues forcefully in favour of its positive contribution to the city.
“It has been a central theme for the whole of my time here. Yes, there were lots of problems and difficulties but if you look at it now the public are using it and it is attracting investment. It is a great thing for the city.”
Ward is much travelled and enjoyed a career as a journalist before moving into economic development. He was born in Africa, the son of a Glaswegian businessman, and was schooled in Liberia before landing a job as a radio presenter. At the age of 26 he decided on a university education and studied English literature and communications in Montreal, Canada, later becoming a hotel manager.
On his arrival in Britain he was drawn into economic development and worked for a number of public sector organisations in south east England before moving to Scotland with his current job.
He says he leaves Edinburgh with some regret and will continue to take great interest, not least in the progress of the bid to secure a City Deal that would bring £1 billion in funding support to the six councils in the region.
“Leaving was a difficult decision to make as Edinburgh is in the top tier of European cities. But I wanted to experience working in London, and Westminster is right at the heart of it.”
Birthplace: Nigeria, 1961.
Educated: Liberia, and McGill University in Montreal, Canada
Career Highlights: Radio presenter, Qatar Broadcasting Service; hotel manager, Montreal; various roles with Sussex Chamber of Commerce and later South East England Development Association.
What advice have you valued?
I have been lucky that a lot of people around me give good advice.
What makes you angry?
Not much. You have to learn to just get on with things.