By Scott Wright
GLASGOW, Edinburgh and Aberdeen should be handed control of tax-raising and immigration powers to drive their recovery from the upheaval created by Brexit, the pandemic and the climate crisis.
The radical proposals to devolve two major policy levers to city level in Scotland have been tabled in a major new academic study, which also calls for an overhaul of business rates and major investment in connectivity.
The report, Scotland’s Urban AGE 2022, declares that Covid, Brexit and the climate emergency have the potential to usher in a “toxic” cocktail of change.
It contends that Scotland’s AGE (Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh) city regions must be “at the top of their game” if they are to compete on the global stage.
The report, a sequel to an original paper published in 2018, says business must collaborate with government at all levels to overcome the current period of change.
While Scotland’s three big cities are the main drivers of economic growth, it notes that they have been hit the hardest by the pandemic, declaring that high streets have been devastated. It found the cities lost 124 weeks of sales because of Covid restrictions, more than any city in England.
The new AGE report makes seven recommendations, which in addition devolving tax-raising and immigration calls for a major focus to increase the residential population of Scotland’s big cities. It says AGE cities should work together to accelerate their journey to net zero, highlights the need to invest in growing and upskilling the planning service to respond to the changing environment, and reform business rates to reflect changing property needs and incentivise new businesses to emerge.
The report also makes a case for “transformational” investment in rail infrastructure and to help airports regain lost connectivity.
Speaking on behalf of the Aberdeen & Grampian, Glasgow and Edinburgh chambers of commerce, Russell Borthwick, said: “The updated report considers what has changed in light of the pandemic and the accelerating net-zero carbon agenda, and also the many fundamentals which have not. It must be used to provide the launchpad to propel Scotland forward in the century of the city. And we ask Scotland’s policy makers to urgently work together with business communities to make the necessary interventions that will shape the next chapter for our AGE cities – and it must happen at pace.”
“As agents of positive change, chambers of commerce and our project partners stand ready to play our part. Doing, not just talking.”
The research informing the report was led by professor Brian Evans, head of urbanism at the Glasgow School of Art and an advisor to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. It is estimated that city inhabitants will soon outnumber rural dwellers for the first time in human history.