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A group of tourism retailers on the Royal Mile have made a plea to Edinburgh City Council and the Scottish Government to present a case for ‘special assistance’ to save jobs after dozens of shops on the iconic street have remained closed due to it not being financially viable to open.

In an open letter from traders they described the Royal Mile as ‘undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of Scottish tourism’ but added that it is now a shadow of its former self and that urgent assistance is required to save the livelihoods of Scots who have put their hearts and souls into businesses that, on the Royal Mile alone, employs thousands of people whose jobs are imminently at risk.

As restrictions lift and staycations are on the cards for many Scots, tourism traders on the Royal Mile have still found themselves in a ‘dismal’ situation.

In an open letter from traders they described the Royal Mile as ‘undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of Scottish tourism’ but added that it is now a shadow of its former self and that urgent assistance is required to save the livelihoods of thousands of people whose jobs are imminently at risk.

“This past weekend being a Bank Holiday and school holiday, a survey of 15 Royal Mile businesses reports an 80 to 90 per cent drop in takings as ‘staycationers from Scotland may well purchase food and beverage but do not purchase tourist gifts.’

“Landlords including the City of Edinburgh Council are demanding full rent be paid for the last six months although businesses were closed by government decree yet I have no doubt that if a council house tenant could not gain access to their council house for six months the council would not charge them rent.

“We as a group are fully aware that City of Edinburgh Council are also in a difficult financial position and appeal to them also to reach out to the Scottish Government and present a case for assistance for Royal Mile Traders who find themselves in a unique difficulty of losing the lifeblood of international tourists.”

John Thorburn is one of the retailers who says he feels ‘anxious’ about the future if urgent assistance is not provided

Traders also claimed that dozens of emails have been sent to various MSPs, MPs, councillors and the Minister for Tourism, who received 23 emails from one trader, with most not responding, and the others ‘passed on’ to other departments.

The letter adds: “It seems our elected representatives abandoned us in our time of need. It will be some time before our industry returns to normal and government support is urgently needed and a plan for future support agreed. The Scottish government continually finds millions of pounds to support businesses and industries that have no hope of survival whilst the highly successful tourist retail sector is left to rot.”

One trader, John Thorburn, who owns family-run business Really Scottish has said that this is a plea for help, and much needed dialogue.

He said: “Things are dismaly quiet, we just wish someone would respond to us. Edinburgh is a city that thrives on international tourism and expensive rents are justified by high footfall, but that hasn’t been the case for the last 15 months.

“There are thousands employed on this street, we’ve made posters for outside our shops and we’re not anti-SNP, but they are the ones in government who aren’t helping us.

“I’m very anxious about the financial situation. The tourism industry in Edinburgh will return, but it will take some time.

“My business has been here for more than 20 years and like other businesses is very much a part of the Royal Mile, but we need some support for those people like us whose livelihoods and lives are here, as well as the future. We can’t be burdened with further debt.”

Council Leader, Adam McVey said: “It has been an extremely difficult time for every business across the city who have had to close their doors during lockdown and have worked extremely hard to curb the spread of the virus and protect customers. We’ve seen a fantastic amount of innovation of traders, taking their business offer online, developing takeaway offers for customers and diversifying their offer to keep going as circumstances have changed.

“Over past year, we have made over 19,000 payments of over £250m to businesses through grant funds provided by the Scottish Government to help businesses to stay afloat.

“Shops operating from Council units who approached us to seek assistance with their rents were offered up to 6-months rent free in financial year 2020/21 and we’ve approved the use of repayment plans for those tenants still seeking assistance for the second half of that financial year to be as flexible we can to help businesses recover.”

Depute Leader Cammy Day, said: “We continue to have ongoing discussions with Scottish Government around support for businesses in areas that remain in Level 2. And as we look ahead to the wider economic recovery of our Capital we’re actively developing plans through our Economic Development Strategy and our City Centre Recovery Plan to help drive momentum, generate footfall, development inspirational campaigns like Forever Edinburgh and help to deliver our world renowned Festivals. While also working on targeted support in conjunction with local areas, like our Shop Here This Year campaign and collaborating with business groups.”

From February into April, Edinburgh has witnessed a series of appalling attacks on Lothian Buses, endangering staff and passengers and halting many services in the evenings.

Last week the council finally got round to discussing the situation thanks to a Conservative motion calling for action. While the SNP-run council has condemned the actions of the vandals, they’ve done little else.

The answer to these issues is proper local policing that engages with the young people in our communities, works in partnership with other agencies like the council’s youth services, diverts young people away from crime and anti-social behaviour, and targets hotspot areas where attacks take place to catch the perpetrators. It effectively prevents the problem at source.

This is precisely what we had until 2013 under the former Lothian and Borders Police. It was driven by a much larger network of community-based officers who knew their areas and worked with the residents on problems.

I have every respect for the work our local police have done to resolve the attacks on our transport system. But there are not enough officers. The number of locally-based police officers in Edinburgh has fallen since the creation of Police Scotland while the population has risen inexorably. When averaged out per thousand residents, the local officers in Greater Glasgow outnumber ours by three to two.

Under Police Scotland, the focus and accountability of the service has centralised. Smaller numbers of local officers are unable to work on prevention as they chase around the endless stream of incidents. Through no fault of their own, their contacts with community councils and other local groups are limited.

The council doesn’t give enough time to scrutinise local policing, burying it in lengthy committee agendas. And previous attempts to argue for more local police resources have obviously fallen on deaf ears.

The council’s youth and community services have been slow to return from lockdown. I’m pleased that one SNP councillor, Kate Campbell, has highlighted the bureaucratic restrictions that have caused this. She seemed slightly embarrassed when I praised her actions at the council meeting. I hope she’ll carry on until she gets a result.

The bottom line is Edinburgh needs its fair share of local police officers so we can return to a preventative approach. The police focus on the task usually galvanises the partnership with other agencies too.

I know from my time on the Scottish Police Authority Board that the Police Scotland top-brass recognise the disparity between local police numbers in Edinburgh and elsewhere. I even agree with them that it will take time to sort.

However, the figures haven’t improved. And the soflty, softly approach of the SNP council’s lobbying has achieved nothing.

It’s high time the council stood up for Edinburgh and its needs as a capital city. Police Scotland and the Scottish government should show us a workable plan to give us a fair share of police resources. If they don’t, we should kick up a political stink until they do.

All it needed was grainy images of stormtroopers goose-stepping in the background but in a grim party election broadcast, the message from the SNP on Tuesday was clear: jackbooted or not, Scotland is being ground into the dirt by English Conservative oppressors.

Maybe the wannabe Alan Parker director realised that would be going too far but, presented by an actor resembling free-spirited Princess Merida from the cartoon movie Brave, they might as well have gone the whole hog and got a job lot from Mel Gibson to include evil English knights from Braveheart or a few tricorned redcoats from The Patriot for good measure.

But I suspect thoughtful SNP supporters would have winced at a sequence with multiple television screens showing blurry images of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon which was more like North Korean TV or something from the 1954 dramatisation of 1984 with Peter Cushing. For Alex Salmond-supporting Alba-nonis, telescreens from the Big Sister House will have confirmed everything they have been saying about the personality cult now gripping the party.

The tone was like that of the 1986 Aids public information film, except the message was “Don’t die of ignorance, vote SNP”. It’s all a far cry from the “joyous and inclusive” independence campaign of 2013-14.

It’s not so inclusive if you’re in the half of the population which doesn’t want another referendum anytime soon, and definitely not if you are in the 29 per cent of Edinburgh people who voted Conservative in 2017.

Those not pledged to the Dear Leader see a Scotland which benefits from Union, in which every £100 raised in tax is matched by £137 of public spending, with precisely £1633 more per head spent here than the UK average. Sixteen per cent of all jobs in Edinburgh are supported by the UK furlough scheme.

According to the Financial Times, an independent Scotland would face tax rises or spending cuts equivalent to £1765 per person to hit the three per cent deficit target needed to qualify for EU membership. Maybe the EU would ease the rules to, say, five per cent, but that would still mean having to find around £1,000 a person, and at the same time set up a central bank in which international lenders had instant faith in the government’s control of spending.

But according to Princess Merida, only sunshine and happiness lies ahead for the wee toddler projected behind her, a tot who actually faces a future in which the continued decline of school standards means the education they will receive will not be good as their parents received and significantly worse than their grandparents. Still, they got a baby box.

We now know from the Alba campaign launch that if last weekend’s polls are borne out then on day one of the new parliament the arguments will start in earnest between a majority SNP and Alex Salmond’s new ultras demanding instant delivery of a referendum process against Ms Sturgeon’s more cautious approach. The scene is being set for years of nationalist bickering about how independence should be delivered, not how services can be improved.

There is no majority for independence, there is no majority for another referendum, and the vote duplication between the SNP and Alba proves only that if anything is broken in Scotland it’s the electoral system.

Airport bosses have been left fuming over a lack of urgency and transparency from the Scottish Government around a planned pilot testing scheme last year which was quietly binned in December.

Edinburgh Airport and AGS Airports, which owns Aberdeen and Glasgow airports, were forced to submit two freedom of information requests in order to discover why plans to pilot a double test regime whereby passengers are tested on arrival and five days later were dropped.

Initially officials in the civil service had told the airports they were unable to say whether the plans had been rejected for several weeks despite having recommended them for refusal within days, with the FOI request required to find out the reasons why the plans were dropped.

The airport proposals were rejected on the basis of “considerable concerns” about removing quarantine for travellers but said it was “beneficial to explore a pilot approach”.

Plans to upgrade the notorious Sheriffhall roundabout must be made a priority, Edinburgh Southern Conservative candidate Miles Briggs has said.

The £120 million scheme, which includes a flyover to ease congestion, was halted in February last year so a review could be carried out as part of the SNP’s Holyrood budget agreement with the Greens.

But Mr Briggs said the rush-hour queues which have long plagued commuters are getting worse and demanded that the project – financed under the City Region Deal should resume.

He said: “It has to become a priority. The SNP have been dragging their feet on it. They did a deal with the Greens which has just paused it for a year, so for people using the bypass – particularly at peak times – it’s just getting worse and worse.

“This is a key improvement that need to be prioritised as soon as possible in the next parliament.”

And he said congestion on the bypass had also been neglected for too long. “It’s quite clear it’s over-capacity. Even during the pandemic when people are meant to be working from home there are tailbacks at Sheriffhall every morning.”

He said he had put forward a number of “workable suggestions” which ministers had ignored, including use of “smart motorway” technology and a feasibility study into widening the road.

Mr Ross commented while on the campaign trail in Moray, and ahead of his visit to Edinburgh on Monday – in the run-up to the Holyrood election on May 6.

Analysis from the Financial Times published today has determined that a major deterioration in Scotland’s fiscal position since the independence referendum in 2014 suggests it will face a persistent deficit of nearly 10 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) if it leaves the UK by the middle of this decade.

The newspaper added that the nation has seen its budget deficit widened by lower-than-expected tax revenues, Brexit and the coronavirus crisis – and reducing its GDP deficit from about 10 per cent to a “manageable” 3 per cent would require raising taxes or slashing public spending annually by the equivalent of £1,765 per person in the period after exiting the UK.

© Scotland Matters