Productive Places – Embracing the Emerging Economy

Ross Martin, Chief Executive of Scottish Council for Development and Industry, reflects on the connection between place and productivity in this thought-provoking piece.

The economic competitiveness of our Cities and their Regions has never been more important, and in that description I include our ‘disaggregated cities’ of Ayrshire, the South of Scotland and our Islands, each of which display many of the economic characteristics of our urban centres, e.g. economic diversity, innovative vibrancy and an internationalism which puts the activities of many of our provincial towns in the shade.

Collectively, these diverse socio-economic geographies – the places in which we all live, work and play – are the bedrock of Scotland’s economy, providing the infrastructure, both hard and soft, for businesses to flourish and in which quality public services can be designed and delivered. The connections between people and their places are what gives our country its distinctive, definitive and increasingly diverse character, providing the basis for building economic growth and spreading prosperity.

Across Scotland, place is not just where we are, but also who we are.

Our surroundings shape us and tell the world about us, they provide a window into our relationships with each other and reflect how we treat one another too. The state of our places, both public and private, are an indication of the state and resilience of our socio-economic system. For example, whilst we have some spectacular natural scenery, and very creatively designed elements of our built environment, if we linger awhile and look around, we have an awful lot of unproductive place – both a symptom of, and a contributor to our Productivity Puzzle.

Whether it’s the decay and dereliction of our post-industrial landscape, which scars so many of Scotland’s provincial towns, or the forgotten neighbourhoods and sink peripheral housing estates of our cities these places are sad reflections of who we’ve become and an indicator of a dangerous lack of economic engagement for far too many of our population. As we consider a future with no, or limited, access to the EU labour market, we must use the coming together of economic and social policy levers at Holyrood, which have been the split responsibility of Her Majesty’s Government in London and the Scottish Government in Edinburgh throughout the post devolution period, to address this part of our Productivity Puzzle.

If, for example, we devolve responsibility for decision making to the City Region level, within a stronger, more integrated framework of economic and social policy, acting coherently and not diverging into the deep trough of despair of the ‘devolution divide’, (that vacuum for ideas and initiatives falling between the responsibilities of Holyrood and Westminster) can we finally start to tackle the dereliction and decay of our industrial past? Is it now possible, at the City Region level to reconnect people and place by driving local economic activity and therefore boosting national productivity?

SCDI is working to bring both governments together to share a common economic platform for growth and prosperity and ensure that by doing so, we don’t let communities fall between the constitutional cracks as power for economic growth transfers from Westminster to Holyrood. In so doing, we want to open up a debate on the productive use of place, both public and private, in our cities, towns and villages. As we embrace the emerging economy, and it’s likely characteristics of being both more mobile and agile, we’d welcome your thoughts, advice, support and above all engagement in this economic effort.

This blog was originally posted on LinkedIn here.