Today we marked the launch of the first annual report by the independent panel formed to advise on the Aberdeen city region’s economic performance – and the signs are incredibly encouraging.
The panel has pointed towards the optimism they encountered as they pulled together evidence from a wide range of sectors and has underlined the potential for economic growth.
The findings were at the centre of the inaugural State of the Cities Conference hosted by Aberdeen City Council today and the feeling in the room was certainly one of great positivity.
Our thanks go to all who attended and helped organise the day as well as to the event facilitator Donald John MacDonald and the guest speakers who shared their knowledge and expertise: Dougie Peedle and Dr Hanan Morsy of the Economic Policy Panel, Senator Lyndon Farnham of the States of Jersey and Chris Murray of Core Cities UK.
Key points in the report include the forecast of a return to moderate growth in our economy in the coming years, Aberdeen maintaining its place as the biggest contributor of GVA per head in Scotland, a 21% share in the value of Scottish exports, an improving labour market and stability in the property market.
All of these positives are against the backdrop of the significant challenges posed by the downturn in oil prices dating back to 2014 – and the subsequent proactive approach taken by the Council and our partners to drive positive and sustainable economic change.
We now find ourselves at a crossroads in our economic planning. The next stage in our journey is to look at what we need to do, collectively and collaboratively, to maintain the Aberdeen city region’s contribution to UK and Scottish economic growth.
We must also recognise that the city’s economic success has not necessarily benefited everyone living here. Aberdeen is not unusual in that respect – but today has provided a platform to focus on a new approach, where we align our investment in the city’s infrastructure with our investment in our social infrastructure to better respond to the needs of the people and place.
We have a phenomenally strong base from which to grow our economy across all key economic indicators. Aberdeen’s international reach, in terms of trade and investment, is an obvious area of competitive advantage and our Regional Economic Strategy recognises this.
The opportunity to diversify within oil and gas and across the energy sector is one we are grasping. We are also ambitious to grow our employment in city centre sectors such as entertainment, tourism, leisure and hospitality. An improved image, sense of place and identity is another economic cornerstone.
This work being done through our own Regional Economic Strategy’s Inclusive Economic Growth programme and by Aberdeen City Council as an organisation is hugely encouraging.
To build on this, the Council will continue to push for greater devolution of powers that in turn could allow local government to make decisions on the levers it needs to drive economic growth in their communities.
If we are to continue to punch above our weight economically and increase growth that is accessible by all of our people, we need that flexibility and the recognition that as a local government we are best placed to deliver some services at a local level.
That was a key message delivered at today’s conference – but not the only one.
One of the most important is that our past and present achievements are not a guarantee of our future success. We must continue to work collaboratively to ensure a bright, prosperous future for all.
Cllr Jenny Laing and Cllr Douglas Lumsden