Andrew Burns: Get ready for the real northern powerhouse

Ambitious plans will make the south-east of Scotland the most creative and connected place in Europe, writes Andrew Burns

Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region will become the most connected, creative, inclusive and entrepreneurial place in Europe. Picture: Jane Barlow

Earlier this week I was at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre to urge business leaders from across Edinburgh and the South East of Scotland to back a £1bn bid to accelerate growth across the region.

A total of 150 businesses attended and many of them have already pledged their support.

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Now I’m going to urge you to do the same.

As Scotland’s capital city, we have been working closely with our neighbouring authorities, East Lothian, Fife, Midlothian, Scottish Borders and West Lothian, on a city region deal which will drive productivity and growth while reducing inequalities and deprivation.

We have a shared vision: in a fast-changing world we will create a region where investment, intellect and culture will fuse to create new ways of doing things.

In the next 20 years the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region will become the most connected, creative, inclusive and entrepreneurial place in Europe.

We will build a network of businesses, universities, technical and creative skills, attracted by a great lifestyle and cultural offer.

Our ambition is to secure a £1bn Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal from the UK and Scottish Governments, which will include greater autonomy and decision making powers, increase opportunities for learning and development and investment in infrastructure.

If we can achieve this, we estimate we can leverage an additional £3.2bn of private sector investment.

It is ambitious but we believe it can be transformative for the region.

Over the last nine months or so, I’ve been delighted to work closely with colleagues from our neighbouring authorities, to develop our bid. Whilst we might not all be of the same political persuasion, we do understand the challenges and opportunities for our region and the role a deal could have in helping tackle these. And our region has many strengths.

At its heart, Edinburgh is an international Knowledge Capital, while Fife has forged a successful reputation in renewable energy technology and manufacturing.

West Lothian has developed new science and technology capabilities and in the Scottish Borders, Midlothian and East Lothian there is a range of internationally orientated companies located in their towns involved in textiles, light engineering, electronics and medical products, as well as a strong life, bio, veterinary sciences presence anchored in the higher education sector.

We have five universities and four major colleges situated in the region while almost 46 per cent of the region’s working-age population is educated to degree or equivalent level.

We are home to two of Scotland’s first US $1billion valued start-up technology companies and CodeBase, Europe’s largest technology incubator.

In total, the region is responsible for over 30 per cent of the Scottish economy, contributing over £33bn worth of gross value added with only 24 per cent of the total population.

We also boast an international reputation when it comes to our cultural offering. Our 13 festivals generate over £260m to the Scottish economy in terms of economic benefit and we welcome 8.7 million people each year to the region’s top 10 visitor attractions.

So why then, you might well ask, do we need a City Region Deal?

A simple look below the surface reveals we cannot take our success for granted. For all our strengths, we are also a divided region, with significant numbers missing out on the region’s prosperity

Almost a quarter of our residents live in fuel poverty while 21 per cent of the region’s children live in poverty. We cannot accept this.

We are not achieving our full growth potential and have a critical skills shortage in areas such as software, engineering and care.

And we are also a growing region – in the next 20 years we estimate there will be an additional 200,000 people living in the region. We need the fundamental infrastructure and services in place to support our future economic and population growth in a sustainable and equitable way.

Through innovation, the development of skills and infrastructure projects and the acquisition of increased powers, we can further enhance the region’s reputation as a great place to live, work, do business and invest in and help accelerate economic growth for the region, Scotland and the UK.

The involvement of businesses from across the region will be crucial to the success of our vision.

Local authorities cannot deliver this on our own so I am urging business leaders to engage with us and support our proposition.

Naturally, people are keen to know the detail – the nuts and bolts of what is being proposed – and that is what we will be developing over the next few weeks and months. We will reveal more as soon as we are able. In the meantime, we would welcome input and direction from businesses and our other stakeholders.

By working closely in partnership with our neighbouring local authorities and our stakeholders, there is every prospect of a multi-billion pound City Region Deal being in place for South East Scotland next year.

Visit our website for further information. And please do join the 50+ businesses who have already pledged their support.

• Andrew Burns is leader of the City of Edinburgh Council