More support for business is needed on top of energy aid - Roddy Smith

Summer positives for Edinburgh city centre’s economic recovery from the devastating impact of the Covid 19 pandemic shone through in August – despite the dampening effect of the city’s bin strike.

The return of the Capital’s world renowned summer festivals – in particular the Edinburgh International Festival and the Fringe – was enormously important and again saw our city become the artistic, cultural and visitor focus of the world.

While the numbers may have tracked a little below the pre pandemic levels of 2019, it was very encouraging to see the city so vibrant, busy, and presenting our city to the world. In particular, it was pleasing to see lots of international visitors – particularly from the USA – in the city. Numbers for the Far East were still low, and also the Middle East, so proactive marketing to these key markets should be a priority moving forward.

It is also worth remembering that while we compare with the immediate pre-pandemic year of 2019, that year represented the biggest numbers ever in terms of visitors coming to enjoy our festivals.

clean team in action on Rose Street.

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So an excellent start back. Disappointing then, that the bin strike had such an adverse impact on the face we were able to present to the world. I have no comment to make on the rights or wrongs of the strike and its causes, I leave that to others, but there is no doubt that at our busiest time of the year, when the world was watching, the city looked so bad and so dirty.

In the city centre BID, our Clean Team worked tirelessly to mitigate the impact and our area was noticeably cleaner than other parts of the city. Our team members filled over 1400 sacks of overspill rubbish during the strikes, an amazing quantity and testament to their hard work on behalf of our levy paying businesses, and a tangible testament to the value of the private sector supplementing services provided by the council.

In terms of how the city centre performed, footfall and retail sales are still reporting a very mixed bag. With footfall still tracking circa 10% below 2019 levels we need to work hard to bring residents and tourists back in. A key part of the city centre community still not returning is our office-based workers. Understandably as we recover many businesses are maintaining a hybrid work system or indeed allowing their staff to work from home full time. This includes a number of large employers including both the local and national government. It is hoped that numbers return in the medium term and although it is anticipated home working will continue indefinitely, a greater proportion of working time in the office will greatly aid city centre recovery, and it would be very helpful to the myriad businesses who depend on this demographic to see our governments encouraging more staff to return more often.

Our city centre businesses – like others – are also struggling with the cost of doing business, and in particular the soaring costs of energy as we head into the winter. When this is added to raw material and goods increases, staff shortages in many sectors, the return of VAT and the abolition of tax-free shopping many businesses are facing significant serious issues. While it is good to see the Government bringing in action to limit energy bills more support for businesses is needed.

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Roddy Smith, Chief Executive, Essential Edinburgh

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