Leader: Questions of Edinburgh & Glasgow team up

Jim Murphy wants the cities to partner up and create a stronger economic unit. Picture: JP
Jim Murphy wants the cities to partner up and create a stronger economic unit. Picture: JP
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WHAT goes around, comes around – albeit with a new and compelling twist. Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy has unveiled proposals which he hopes will create a “twin city powerhouse” of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

This, he says, is needed to compete with London in economic clout and to attract new businesses.

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It is a proposal that could see Scotland’s two biggest cities being allowed to keep a large proportion of the taxes raised in them to push forward economic growth in the Central Belt.

Mr Murphy’s inspiration owes much to Jim O’Neill, the Manchester-born former Goldman Sachs economist whose plans for a northern regional powerhouse are gaining traction. His vision to revive great English cities with infrastructure investment has inspired hope and cross-party sympathy. Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle believe proposals for investment in road capacity, a high-speed rail link and better access to airports – a £15 billion programme over 15 years – would create a “connected region” powerhouse that would challenge London. And challenge is long overdue. According to KPMG, the capital spends as much on infrastructure every two days as Manchester does in a year.

But a re-awakened English north would also pose a challenge to Scotland, and the Central Belt in particular. If a spark has been lit for northern English cities, what of similar ignition here?

Mr Murphy might usefully dust down files from the Jack McConnell era. Years ago there was talk of Glasgow-Edinburgh collaboration and the benefits it promised. The energetic Laura Gordon headed up a joint body, set up by the former First Minister and funded by the two city councils and Scottish Enterprise. Meetings were held and strategy agendas waved.

But it all fizzled out amid intercity rivalries. Plans for a high speed rail link foundered. Edinburgh turned down the airport rail link and pressed ahead instead with the trams. Plans were lost in rival zoning policies and the initiative was subsumed within Scottish Enterprise.

So it is timely to look closely – both at what England’s northern cities and at our own previous endeavours in city collaboration – to see how progress can be made and previous errors avoided.

Big questions need to be tackled. The first is money. From where would funding come to finance an ambitious infrastructure uplift? Second, do we have the political will to make the commitment? Cuts have slashed council budgets and squeezed transport and skills investment.

Then there is planning. The approval process for development is likely to be lengthy. And finally, there is deeply ingrained rivalry to be overcome.

Of course a first step would be to set up a task force. But we are going to need something far more muscular if Glasgow-Edinburgh collaboration is to become a reality and not quickly dismissed as a pre-election gimmick.

Veterans to polish tarnished image

Over 50 and looking for a career-switch? Why spend long hours trudging round the banks for a loan to finance your business start-up when you can leap over the counter and become a banker?

News that Barclays bank is offering apprenticeships to over-50s seeking a fresh career will strike a chord – both among customers and an aspirant older generation.

The grey-haired apprentices will learn banking skills – such as calculating credit risks and the criteria for approving a loan – alongside young people not in employment, education or training who currently provide the intake for the bank’s trainee scheme.

It seemed only yesterday that our banks were discarding older staff in their thousands, oblivious to the prime importance of customer relationships. Now that customer confidence and trust has been worn threadbare by an era of excess, poor judgment and product mis-selling, they are turning to those who can bring the wisdom of life-experience along with their business and technical skills.

Many older workers do yearn for fresh challenges and occupations. So Barclays is targeting a rich seam of talent. Older people have much more to give than being shelf stackers in supermarkets and product explainers at B&Q.

When it comes to financial guidance, savers have a marked preference for older advisers.

So there are gains here all round – for customers more comfortable with guidance from older hands and for the banks in re-building corporate reputation. This is an initiative to be broadly welcomed – and one that others could usefully follow.