Minister for cities: 'The idea has been around for ten years'

IN RECENT weeks, the News has stressed the need for Edinburgh's leaders to plot the city's future with care in these tough economic times.

We've pointed out not just the hurdles that lie ahead but the opportunities too – such as the chance to bring in fresh blood during the search for a new council chief executive.

And in a week in which we have revealed the growing problems with the trams project, the need for new impetus has been clearer than ever.

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But there is a growing feeling that the recession, together with the public sector spending cuts it has swept in, mean there is a limit to what the Capital can do on its own.

With less money to go round, it is increasingly important that Edinburgh stands with other parts of Scotland to meet the challenges ahead.

It was into this context that an old idea was revived at a timely, but little-noted meeting of the CSPP Edinburgh City Region Conference yesterday.

There, discussing "Injecting Political Capital in Turbulent Times" the city's economic development convener, Tom Buchanan, asked a question. Why is it that Scotland has a government minister – Richard Lochhead – and a well-funded department devoted to taking care of rural affairs but no-one whose main job it is to stand up for our cities?

The idea of a minister for cities has been around for at least ten years, since Henry McLeish launched a review of policies for Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee.

That the post has never been created is largely the result of a persistent argument that cities can – and should – be able to take care of themselves.

But today this looks an outdated view. Yes, our cities are the most successful parts of the nation – but that is precisely why they need more support.

As Buchanan told yesterday's conference, the four main urban areas, plus Inverness and Stirling, are home to just a quarter of Scots but account for half of the nation's economic value.

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Put simply, our cities are the most important engines for economic growth and they – especially Edinburgh with its key financial centre – can get Scotland back on the road to recovery. That process would be easier with a central figurehead wielding a budget designed to boost the prospect of cities.

The News usually prefers slim government. But, for once, there is a strong case for another seat around the government table.