Edinburgh – Primed for success
Edinburgh has a fascinating history and an extremely bright future. Under the gaze of the world-famous skyline that earned it the accolade of the ‘Athens of the North’, the city is alive with the buzz of our people and our business community, the promise of our 97,000-strong student population and the sheer vibrancy of our cultural scene.
For all that is said about the traditions in Edinburgh, it is the city’s ability to innovate and adapt that will shape its future prosperity.
We’ve just marked the ten-year anniversary of the global financial crisis, which prompted many in our city to consider the path we have taken over the last decade. And I think that the crisis benefitted Edinburgh, because it rationalised the all-important financial services community, which had been heavily dependent on a small number of big players.
The overriding driver behind Edinburgh’s continued success is that it is a city where people want to live and work. The city is able to attract and retain a highly skilled workforce for traditional sectors but is now demonstrating the same characteristics for creative, technology-driven disciplines – and futureproofed itself in the process.
The future of the city is being directed by the success of companies such as Codebase.; The UK’s largest incubator is home to more than 100 of the country’s best technology businesses and made its name as Europe’s fastest-growing tech company in the process. Skyscanner and Fanduel, two unicorns of the tech sector, can both trace their roots back to Codebase.
In terms of what would expedite its own expansion, the Codebase team is likely to look for three drivers: a thriving student population; angel investment; and a destination in which people want to live and work. It’s therefore little wonder the firm set its sights on Edinburgh when it first opened its doors back in 2014.
CBRE’s latest research, Our Cities, calls out three consistent factors that make a successful city: innovation, culture and governance. In Edinburgh, we need look no further than the buildings that line our streets to see that ours is a city with a knack for innovation. However it is the very topography that contributes so much to Edinburgh’s charm that could impede its growth. Our walls are rigid, and accommodation is limited and unaffordable to many. The added protection afforded by Edinburgh’s UNESCO World Heritage status bolsters the natural constrains of our boundaries, further densifying the city and capping capacity in a way that jars with the principles of urban progression. This is where the industry needs to step up and think laterally to find a solution.
These confines are felt far beyond our local community. Edinburgh has forged a world-class reputation for the diversity and calibre of our culture. From the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe, to Hogmanay and our thriving sporting calendar, there’s plenty to entice the 4 million tourists that visit the city each year. This year has been a record-breaker: throughout the Fringe, AirBNB owners accommodated around 120,000 guests and our hotels were full, and it has been noted that the Fringe sells more tickets than the both Olympics and the World Cup. Tourism not only boosts our economy and local employment but has instilled an unfathomable sense of pride amongst our people. But this comes at a price. Edinburgh is straining with the demands of its residents alone and this sporadic influx of visitors poses immense pressure on our infrastructure – which, naysayers might protest, is too much for the city to bear.
As a country, Scotland is thriving. Our universities are world renowned and we retain many of our students after graduation. GDP per person continues to grow, contrary to the mild dip recorded in the UK last year. Our cities are also excelling; business is booming in Glasgow; and Aberdeen has brushed itself down from the 2014 oil crash, with many oil and services players operating healthy profits.
Edinburgh itself, however, has a supremacy that runs far deeper than the castle that watches over it: this is a connected city with a global outlook. The Scottish and UK Governments are an undisputable source of support to our cities’ respective economies and businesses alike, but the way in which these are used will determine that city’s success. Edinburgh has optimised this investment to unlock local business potential and deeper forge our niche in data technology. As a result, we truly hold our own in the global business arena.
Ironically, however, the biggest obstacles that stand in the way of our success will be of our own making. The dynamics between local and national government are complex and fraught; and the heated question of independence has been further stoked by Brexit. We also have a complex planning system which could be made even more difficult with the new Planning (Scotland) Bill currently working its way through the legislative process. But it’s vital that we do not get distracted by geopolitical factors over which we have no control, if we are to retain Edinburgh’s standing - in Scotland, in the UK and on the international stage.
While technology and innovation are key, the city retains its position as the UK’s leading financial services centre after London. More than 35,000 people work in Edinburgh’s financial services sector. Edinburgh’s reputation as an emerging technology cluster and its mature strength in financial services mean the city is poised to become one of the world’s top ten fin-tech hubs.
So, the future’s bright. But how bright it will transpire to be depends on whether the many stars that are charting Edinburgh’s destiny can align, and work together for the collective good of this great city.