FutureWork podcast: Is city centre working dead?

Scotland’s town and city centres face a battle for survival after being hollowed out by long periods of pandemic shutdown.

There have been many business casualties, especially in retail, and the future shape of our city centres is likely to be very different to what we knew pre-pandemic.

In the second episode of our podcast series, The Future of Work, we speak to two experts about how our urban centres will adapt to the new working world.

Liz McAreavey Chief Executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, says the city centre has suffered disproportionately from the pandemic, with the absence of visitors having a massive negative impact on tourism, hospitality and culture - as well as retail.

An empty Princes Street pictured during lockdown. Picture: TSPL

“There are 50 empty units across Princes Street, George Street and Rose Street,” she says. “Before the pandemic, there were four.”

However, McAreavey sees positive signs with 3000 jobs set to be created in the new St James area at the east end of the city centre, a move towards greater pedestrianisation for George Street - and the likelihood of more residential accommodation replacing retail in the city centre.

She says the Edinburgh economic bounceback will also be helped by the creation of new jobs in strong growth areas like fintech, data and bioscience.

Phil Prentice, Chief Officer of Scotlad’s Towns Partnership, thinks the demise of our urban areas has been greatly exaggerated.

“I think job losses are overstated,” he says. “I genuinely think as one thing closes, people have got that entrepreneurial spark and a new thing opens. I don't see unemployment spiking anywhere close to focusing in the 1980s. I think we will see a short period of disruption and people will find their way back into economic activity in a relatively short period of time.”

Prentice believes that the pandemic has made many people realise that their closest urban centres have lots to offer - and reinforced the fact the ‘Scotland Loves Local’ - which will be a crucial factor in the post-pandemic employment bounceback.

The Future of Work is a podcast series by The Scotsman, in partnership with Skills Development Scotland’s dedicated digital skills and careers website Digital World.

Visit digitalworld.net to become a “digital human”, and fast forward your professional future.

FutureWork is available on Anchor FM, Spotify, Google Podcasts and Apple Podcasts .