Building a fairer Scotland

by Dr Lesley Sawers, Scotland Commissioner

Published: 25 Jul 2017

The recent announcement of up to £1 billion additional investment in the Edinburgh Region as a result of the latest City Deal is welcome news. As with many of the existing City and Inclusive Growth deals in Scotland, the focus of the Edinburgh deal is very much on investing in infrastructure, transport, housing and tourism. All of Scotland’s Growth and Investment Deals, including Edinburgh’s, aim to create jobs, grow their local and the national economy, support business growth and entrepreneurship and encourage greater internationalisation.

In terms of their economic impact, financial measures have been hardwired from the outset, however, the tangible life-changing benefits that will accrue to communities, families and individuals across Scotland are less clear.

Construction forms a key component of all City Deals. As a sector it creates jobs, delivers physical infrastructure and capital assets, it literally lays the bricks and mortar that provides affordable homes and creates sustainable communities. It provides a vehicle for investment, creates a supply chain that supports many other sectors and businesses and it is key to the regeneration of derelict land, connecting excluded communities and delivering environmental improvement.

But, we also know that the Scottish construction industry lacks diversity. Only 17% of employees in construction are female, and less than 2% are from ethnic minorities. Using public sector procurement to set targets for contractors on how they will attract and retain a more diverse works force would be central to making progress in this area.

City Deals also have the potential to transform the lives of those who live in these new houses. Currently in Scotland we know that some 15,000 wheelchair users are in inappropriate homes. Similarly, we are aware that ethnic minorities across Scotland are four times more likely to live in overcrowded homes. The construction of 50,000 new affordable homes, and City Deal investment in housing, if properly designed, could make a sizeable impact on both issues.

And that impact goes beyond having somewhere to live – having a stable and accessible base, disabled people are able to participate in Scotland’s, civic, cultural, and economic life. And for ethnic minorities having a larger home means that children will be able to thrive in an environment which enables privacy and the space to study.

Within the Commission we are working to help shape and form this social investment focus for Scotland’s City Deals. Over the coming months we will be working with government, local authorities, private and third sector stakeholders to make this happen but, importantly, we will be giving voice to those excluded groups and individuals who have most to gain from this 'once in a generation' investment opportunity.

Across Scotland the City Deal programme has the potential to make an impact on construction, biopharma, creative and ICT industries, tuned to local circumstances. As an example, Glasgow based projects could prioritise the employment of younger ethnic minority people who currently experience high levels of unemployment and low levels of entry and progression in key sectors of the economy. In other areas, local demography may determine a greater emphasis on gender or disability equality.   

Inclusive growth, sustainable economies and return on social capital need to be more than theoretical concepts or window dressing in an investment prospectus. We need to deliver a step change in how we target this investment to support those areas or individuals with greatest need. We need bigger thinking than just ROI, GDP growth or an increase in business start-ups as our measures of success. We need to start talking and prioritising the socio-economic needs of cities and communities and using City Deal investment to literally build a fairer and more inclusive Scotland.