To the north of us in Edinburgh sits a financial centre of world-class renown and for all intents and purposes we, the North East, England’s most northerly region, also sits cheek by jowl with another country. The question for us is how best to exploit this situation for the benefit of the North East.
Edinburgh is recognised as a global financial hub. Even in tough economic times it remains attractive to inward investors from the financial sector because there is a workforce with banking experience.
Edinburgh and Scotland are instantly recognisable as international brands.
The draft LA7 document refers to the Scottish ‘offer’ which has a ‘high profile, is well articulated and is very attractive’. This should be of concern to us as we work towards combining authorities to make the regional message something with strength and identity that provide us with a competitive edge on the global stage.
Tracking down the detail of what has attracted inward investors to Scotland is difficult. Beyond the availability of a skilled workforce, it could simply be a political trade-off somewhere in the process or a far better and more advantageous system of financial support. Amazon has located a new major distribution warehouse just south of Dunfermline and has recently withdrawn from a site at Liverpool for 1m sq ft in order to focus on two sites in Wales, begging the question whether there are better financial incentives available outside England.
There is the worldwide reputation of Edinburgh University as a producer of top-quality graduates and the country’s unique lifestyle. We should not overlook the stature of Glasgow, which will host the Commonwealth Games next year, or Europe’s oil capital, Aberdeen. There is considerable firepower competing for inward investment right on our doorstep.
The list of reasons to locate in Scotland reads like a curriculum vitae for the North East of England – educational excellence and academic achievement, scientific success, innovation, competitive labour and occupational costs and quality of life. Yet we need to attract inward investment on a large and continuous scale. Seemingly for some, we are not a location of choice in which to invest. We need to understand why this is.
Is it a result of the existing inward investment process? Does the North East have someone knocking on doors in Japan, for example, or is the process driven by Whitehall by which time it is probably too late despite the hard work of local agencies such as the Newcastle Gateshead Initiative to fill the gap left by the demise of NEDC and ONE.
It could be the process that holds us up or it is a simple fact that the opportunities arising from the presence of oil in the North Sea off Aberdeen is too good for business – it’s best to locate in the North East, of Scotland.
There is evidence, however, that we are engaging in off-shore energy even if the raw material lies under the sea miles to the north of us. There is the offshore wind farm opportunity, possibly fracking, too, that could be opportunities for the region.
We have the skills and competitive occupational costs that make us hugely attractive. When the light goes out in Aberdeen, ours could well be shining brightly. To achieve this we need a readily understood regional brand a sustained marketing effort and a level playing field.
:: Gavin Black, partner, Gavin Black & Partners and chairman, the G9 group of chartered surveyors which includes BNP Paribas Real Estate, DTZ, GVA, Jones Lang LaSalle, Knight Frank, Lambert Smith Hampton, Naylors Chartered Surveyors, Sanderson Weatherall, Storeys Edward Symmons and J K Property Consultants