Graham Birse: Pimp my city

Selling Edinburgh to the world has never been so important, so don't let expenses scandals stop all the good work, argues leading city business figure Graham Birse

THERE can be no greater service any leader gives to their community than to promote its general welfare. It's true of politicians, of business leaders, and of public servants. It is also true that acts of leadership put individuals in the public eye where, rightly, there is a level of scrutiny amid concerns that our leaders act with probity. In the present climate, after MPs' expenses and other public-sector expense issues, where public money is concerned, the spotlight is turned up high.

We must be careful, however, that in protecting the public purse we don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. It is right and proper that the City of Edinburgh Council's representatives should be seeking to promote civic interests on the international stage, especially in promoting the Capital's economic success. Before resorting to a witchhunt and deciding every trip away is a "misguided junket" let's be clear about what we gain from marketing our city to the wider world.

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Global cities – those which direct the global economy, are distinguished by a number of factors on which Edinburgh scores highly. They have well connected travel and communications and support a range of successful industry sectors. They attract and keep quality staff because they are desirable places to live, having good quality housing, a desirable city environment, top quality arts and entertainment, high-grade education (to generate more informed workers but also to satisfy a demand for quality education for the children of the best performers), excellent health services and sporting and leisure activities. Like Edinburgh, they typically flourish in the heritage and tourism stakes. And, typically, all of these successes are aided by strong partnership between the public and private sector – striving for common goals.

Don't just take my word for it. Look at the evidence from leading commentator Greg Clark of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. It's why Edinburgh rings bells for international awards year after year: "Best place to visit", "Best place to live and work", "Top Hotel Occupancy outside London", "Premier Business Tourism Destination". The list is long and frequent. Deloitte's Hotel Index, Simon Amholt's "Amholt Index". They all paint Scotland's capital in a favourable light.

But what would be the point of having these achievements if we weren't prepared to get out on the world stage and tell people?

This isn't just about attracting individual tourists. It's about bringing in new employers, property developers and all the other kinds of major investment,that rid our city of the blight of older, decayed buildings and industries, and create the very optimism and good feelings that make people want to live here. The ability of our further education institutions is another key sector where quality and publicity go hand-in-hand in rendering success. In a city where 60 per cent of the workforce weren't born here, our universities and colleges are vital to bringing on the next generation of high achievers. From exports to life sciences, from informatics to the best in hospitality, industries depend on good staff to succeed. There's also the output of high-level research and development, creating new markets and attracting market leaders to invest in the city.

It's important we are absolutely clear about the distinction between hard-working politicians and officers who are en-gaged in responsible and appropriate promotion of the city's interests and "junketing". When Councillor Jenny Dawe ventured to New York last week as leader of the city council, she was engaged in activity designed to attract jobs to our Capital. And the Chamber of Commerce funded her air fare. When Councillor Tom Buchanan attended MIPIM (the European Property Expo) in the south of France recently, as convener of economic development, delight was expressed in the development community that he was willing to spend time attracting top financiers to our city to invest.

The endless and pointless dissection of every expense claim is not going to advance this city's interests. Indeed, a climate in which public servants and politicians are frightened to engage in such promotional activity will only be to the city's detriment.

People don't come here just because they've heard it's a great place from someone else by chance. In an increasingly competitive global economy, if we aren't prepared to promote ourselves, who will? When Jones Lang Lasalle recently lent its London boardroom for a major event promoting why people should invest in Edinburgh, it was another sign the ceaseless job to engage Edinburgh with the world is vital work. Long may it remain so, and our thanks to those willing to show leadership and do the promoting.

Graham Birse is deputy chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce