BILL JAMIESON: RESILIENT EDINBURGH IS GAINING TRACTION

Edinburgh has not had an easy time of it over the past few years. Tram works upheaval, constant road disruption – and the soaring final bill – put the city under a cloud.

The financial crash and its aftermath devastated Scotland’s two largest banks, casting a pall over the capital as a financial centre.

There has been the scandal over the city’s building works department – still to be resolved.

Meanwhile the recession and its aftermath saw many projects abandoned and building work delayed.

But the city has pulled through to show a remarkable resilience. An upbeat presentation by Frank Ross was to be expected. But the range of topics covered and the volume of evidence suggested that something more is happening than simply catching up after a troubled period.

The City Council’s latest Economy Watch – a monthly summary of key economic pointers in the city – appears to show Scotland’s capital city now going gangbusters.

Upbeat readings are recorded for business incorporations, employment, rising hotel room occupancy and rising foreign direct investment.

These encouraging trends fly in the face of the upward spike in unemployment across Scotland generally in the first three months of the year and concerns that the plunge in the oil price is having a significant impact on Scotland’s growth performance overall.

These are timely reminders of the task facing Scotland’s 56 new SNP MPs – that “more powers” is critically about delivering investment, expansion – and jobs.

For two months now Edinburgh’s retail spend has been bucking the Scottish and UK-wide national trends. Edinburgh’s retail sales were up 3.3% in February 2015 compared to this month in 2014. This is higher than the Scottish average that fell 1.4% on a year earlier and higher than sales in the UK as a whole that were up 1.7%.

In March, Edinburgh’s retail sales were up 5.5% in March 2015 compared to this month in 2014. This is higher than the Scottish average that fell 0.7% on a year earlier and slightly higher than sales in the UK as a whole that were up 4.7%.

Said Frank Ross, “This is fantastic news and further evidence of Edinburgh’s resilient economy.”

On business start-ups, 1,637 new business incorporations were recorded in Edinburgh over the three months to April. This is a 5.1 per cent increase on the previous month’s figures.

A total of 429 new business start-ups were supported by Business Gateway in Edinburgh in the three months to March, 85 more than the previous month and 95 more than the same period in 2014.

Overall, since April of last year Edinburgh has seen more than 1,000 new start-up businesses and 600 growth businesses supported. The Open Innovation project, funded through the Interreg IVB North West Europe programme has helped 170 new businesses with innovation projects and created 265 jobs.

On Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) 32 projects were recorded in the 12 months to March, eight more than the previous 12 month period. Twenty investment or expansion projects were announced in the city in March – 14 more than a year ago.

Unemployment in the city is down to 1.8 per cent, down 0.8 percentage points on last year and markedly lower than the overall rate for Scotland (2.4 per cent).

Finally, Edinburgh continues to attract ever more visitors. Edinburgh Airport enjoyed its busiest April on record, with strong growth in both domestic and international passenger numbers.

It saw passenger numbers totalling more than 928,000 in April, up more than 10 per cent on the same month of last year (Glasgow: 665,000). Domestic passenger numbers came in at nearly 433,000 last month, up by more than 11 per cent on April 2014, amid strong demand for services to and from London airports operated by Ryanair, Flybe and BA Cityflyer.

International passenger numbers at about 495,500, were up by more than nine per cent on April 2014, well above the total for Glasgow at 324,000.

None of this should suggest that it’s ‘job done’ in Edinburgh or that there is little room for improvement. The city needs constantly to innovate and improve to draw in skilled young talent and entrepreneurs to sustain a credible cluster of high growth businesses. But Edinburgh’s getting traction. And we should recognise it more than we do

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