Scotland local council elections 2022 Fife profile: Kingdom looks to jobs and town centre regeneration

As the council election fast approaches, pressure mounts to restore the crown jewel and the rest of the Kingdom to its former glory.

With local council elections less than two weeks away, it is Fife’s town centres and jobs which will be a main focus.

What was once called the linoleum capital of the world, the town centre of Kirkcaldy – named the crown jewel of Fife – feels a lot different now from its industrial heyday as the cost of living and Covid pressures continue.

In the mid 20th century, Fife was a hive of industry and retail. The area's past wealth was largely built on the coal mining industry and factories.

A packed, traffic free Kirkcaldy High Street for Christmas 1962 (Pic: Fife Free Press)

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Yet after the demise of the coal industry as the last pit closed in Seafield in 1988, attention was focused on Fife’s other lead industries including manufacturing which remains to this day – contrary to perceptions of a diminishing industry.

Alan Mitchell, Chief Executive for Fife Chamber of Commerce, said: “Historically, Fife was a traditional coal mining area and was badly impacted when that went down. But there’s been a lot of transition since then in terms of developing new industries in Fife.

“Fife still has a larger proportion of its workforce employed in manufacturing than many other parts in Scotland. I think there’s a myth that manufacturing in Fife has been decimated.”

Fife’s second largest employing sector, manufacturing supports almost 14 per cent of the region’s jobs and 30 per cent of its turnover with health and social care being the biggest employer.

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Kirkcaldy High Street

Whilst output from the sector is expected to grow by almost 38 per cent by 2035, the fall in oil and gas prices has impacted heavily on some of Fife’s engineering and manufacturing businesses with companies closing down or reducing staff numbers.

Across Scotland, Mr Mitchell said there is a “cost of doing business crisis” through supply chain challenges, recruitment challenges and rising costs.

“All of that is affecting the manufacturing and engineering sector in Fife in exactly the same way as in any part of Scotland.”

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Yet, the Tay Cities Deal in Fife hoped to combat this and other problems facing Fife’s job market by focusing on transport and infrastructure enhancements.

Fife Council Elections 2017 (Photo: Ballot Box).

Fife has recently received an investment of £45 million to refurbish new industrial and commercial units.

It comes as industrial and commercial property in Fife has been left abandoned – a depressing monument of Fife’s former vibrancy.

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However, current council co-leaders David Ross and David Alexander hope this investment will stimulate more growth in the industry.

Another area where Fife could see further job opportunities is the UK Government’s green free ports plan with two set to be in Scotland.

Alan Mitchell, CEO, Fife Chamber of Commerce

Although locations have not been confirmed yet areas such as Grangemouth, Rosyth and Methil are looking like strong potentials for such sites.

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Cllr Alexander said if Fife was awarded a contract it could be a “game changer” for creating more jobs in the area, however, added he would “need to see the details”.

Cllr Ross said he is “wary” of the ports on the nature of fair employment practices but said he would be interested in looking at the deal given Fife’s history in shipbuilding.

As part of the UK Government’s £2.6 billion Shared Prosperity Fund, Fife has also been allocated over £13.4million to spread opportunity and reverse the country’s geographical disparities.

Fife’s retail industry at the heart of town centres is also causing pause for thought as the election approaches.

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In the 1960s up to the 1980s, Fife was seen as a vibrant retail hub with British Home Stores choosing Kirkcaldy as the location for its Scottish flagship store.

Hannah Brown

However, as retail parks started developing in the 80s, Fife town centres were hit hard by closures.

Large brands left and more people started travelling out to big cities such as Edinburgh and Dundee for their shopping and work.

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Mr Mitchell said: “Every town in Scotland is trying to grapple with maintaining their bricks and mortar retail centre. There are some broader challenges Fife has being between two very large thriving cities with Dundee to the North and Edinburgh to the South. That geography can present a substantial challenge to some businesses in Fife.”

Mr Mitchell said the “holy trinity” of people living, spending and working in Fife is needed to ensure regeneration of its town centres.

All parties have committed to different approaches on town centre regeneration.

Fife Conservatives have proposed one hour free parking in town centres to encourage shopping.

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The SNP is promising to complete the regeneration projects in Abbeview, Dunfermline, Templehall and Kirkcaldy.

Labour wants to see the current 40 per cent of council contracts going to local businesses increase to 50 per cent in an attempt to “stimulate the local economy”. The Liberal Democrats want to increase footfall on high streets by converting empty shops for alternative uses such as hubs for public agencies, employment or leisure projects, or residential accommodation.

As pens hover over ballot boxes, it remains to be seen who Fifers put their trust in to revitalise their Kingdom. There is, however, some certainty that the political landscape in Fife will change.

The SNP is the only party in Fife able to hold a majority with 39 candidates – 38 of whom would have to win their ward to gain this.

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SNP Fife leader David Alexander said it is looking like another joint agreement or coalition “with somebody” but there are “no guarantees”.

Earlier this year, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said he was against “pacts or deals or coalitions” and Fife Labour’s David Ross stands by Sarwar’s decision.

Fife Council co-leaders David Alexander (left) and David Ross
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