Spending cuts: Scots prepare for axe to fall

SCOTLAND'S six cities are to forge an unprecedented alliance in an attempt to put urban areas at the heart of the economic recovery amid claims that the SNP government has neglected them in favour of its rural heartlands.

• A plea for a dedicated minister to oversee renewal policy for the urban heartlands SNP shunned

City leaders and strategists meet this week to discuss a strategy to bring more co-operation between the main population centres and will call for a Cabinet minister dedicated to urban regeneration.

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Professor Duncan Maclennan, who has been a government adviser on housing policy in Scotland, Canada and Australia, will make the key address at the Scotland's Cities Conference, organised by the Scottish Council for Development and Industry.

Maclennan argues the SNP has concentrated on its rural strongholds at the expense of the six cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Aberdeen, Dundee and Stirling.

From the botched Edinburgh tram project, the cancellation of the Glasgow Airport Rail Link and the lack of a rail connection to Edinburgh Airport, Maclennan believes Scotland is failing to do enough for city infrastructure.

"The SNP's political strength has been in the rural areas, but there is no country now that is led by its rural economy," he said. "If we are in a global economy, how you connect to it is not exclusively but primarily through your major urban centres."

Maclennan said he did not know whether political reasons lay behind an SNP neglect of the cities, but he said: "It is a grave mistake and that is about putting history before Scotland's future geography."

He said: "The first thing government has got to do is come out and say that the cities are important and they haven't done that in any coherent fashion. They then should be moving forward to make sure cities and municipalities actually collaborate with each other."

Jenny Dawe, leader of the City of Edinburgh Council said: "Scotland's cities have a crucial role in supporting economic growth, attracting inward investment and supporting business. Through collaboration we can compete nationally and globally to increase our national wealth. This is particularly vital in these challenging times to help fund the excellent social services that residents value."

Janette Harkess, SCDI director of policy and research, said: "Through collaborative working and utilising their combined strengths, Scotland's cities can play a major part in delivering Scotland's future growth."

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At the conference, Maclennan, an expert in urban economic policy at St Andrews University, will suggest more use should be made of funding methods such as tax increment financing.

Tax increment financing involves funding improvements by borrowing against the increasing value of property that will result from better infrastructure.

"The Scottish Government has to be much clearer on what they provide by way of infrastructure and possibilities in financing.

"The Edinburgh tram project is a particular example of something that

we are systematically bad at. It just happens to be the worst example.

"We have the train line that manages to run past Edinburgh airport and no train will end past Glasgow Airport. Nothing connects our systems and we tolerate these things."

One solution, according to Maclennan, would be to follow England's example, where under the last Government, the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott led city strategy that led to centres such as Manchester and Leeds flourishing.

Maclennan believes the Scottish Government should appoint a minister for urban issues.

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"It has to be a senior ministerial interest and it has to be a stable one," he said.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We believe our cities are vital drivers of economic growth, which is why our Town Centre Regeneration Fund invested in urban and rural areas alike – including specific projects in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow – and why we are delivering key infrastructure improvements such as reduced rail journey times and more frequent services between Inverness and the central belt, Aberdeen and Edinburgh, and on the Glasgow-Edinburgh line, which will help strengthen local economies."