Creating ‘20-minute neighbourhoods’ is one of many ideas aimed at building a more inclusive and sustainable society

During the pandemic people’s worlds generally became smaller, due to lockdowns and ongoing restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19, and local areas became more important than ever.

With much of Scotland’s population being forced to work from home, many city centre shops being shut and the need to restrict travel, local shops became busier and people exercised outdoors near their homes.

Therefore one of the 12 recommendations from the ‘Making a Good Living’ report, recently launched by the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI), to create ‘20-minute neighbourhoods’ is seen as an attractive and feasible idea.

This would mean that access to key amenities would be no more than 20 minutes away, there would be more investment in social and green spaces and in infrastructure that supports healthy lives. It also says that 500 new remote-working hubs should be established, which would suit the more flexible approach to employment that is rapidly emerging.

In its far-reaching blueprint, the SCDI also calls for business and academia to work together with government and civil society if Scotland is to prosper in the global economy and build a more inclusive and sustainable society.

Its 10-year strategy addresses key economic challenges identified by The Fraser of Allander Institute. These include: the transition to net zero carbon emissions; Scotland’s slow population growth and ageing society; the impact of technological change; slow growth rates and low productivity; social inequalities exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and a need for policy planning with longer-term objectives.

SCDI says it wants Scotland to be a ‘living lab’ for innovation, a nation that commits and invests in lifelong learning and a healthy place to live and work. It wants the Scottish and UK governments to focus on: working with stakeholders to make urgent progress on a digitalisation acceleration policy; securing the financial sustainability of tertiary education to retain its world- class status; completing the local governance review and bringing forward a Circular Economy Bill to advance Scotland’s ambitions.

Sara Thiam, SCDI chief executive, said: “We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform our economy for the better. The pandemic has shown us what can be achieved when organisations across the public, private and civil society align behind a common goal and shared values, and SCDI is unique in uniting all sectors and parts of Scotland to create a better economy for all.”

The report has been welcomed by both the Scottish and UK governments. Scotland’s Finance and Economy Secretary Kate Forbes said the SCDI “shares the Scottish Government’s view that seizing Scotland’s economic potential, creating high quality jobs and supporting business’ long-term recovery from the pandemic should be a national endeavour”.

And Scottish Secretary Alister Jack pointed to the UK Government’s investment in jobs and infrastructure, including its £1.5 billion City and Growth Deals Programme and a number of new UK-wide funds.

Access to key amenities would be no more than 20 minutes away, and there would be more investment in social and green spaces

The blueprint has also been well received by Scotland’s business community across a range of sectors.

Clare Foster, head of clean energy at law firm Shepherd and Wedderburn, referred to one of SCDI’s 12 recommendations that Scotland should increase the share of its economy that comes from exports from 20% to 25% through growth in free, fair and climate-friendly trade. She said there was an opportunity to align new trade agreements and arrangements with the wider themes identified in ‘Making a Good Living’, for example including climate commitments and the facilitation of trade in low-carbon goods and services.

Foster added: “The blueprint sets out a vision of Scotland in which new net zero solutions are supported and developed with the aim of creating global export opportunities in technology, products and skills. This is certainly within our reach, particularly if we focus on decarbonising the North Sea basin and developing the blue economy.”

To deliver net zero solutions in Scotland, Foster believes that collaboration, through clustering and increased availability of Series A capital [the first round of financing for new business ventures], are key to harnessing the country’s potential to develop home-grown clean tech solutions.

“The creation of, and deployment of capital by, the Scottish National Investment Bank will go a significant way to addressing such requirements and will ‘crowd in’ additional private equity capital to achieve the green missions of the Bank. With capital available, and a significant development base on our shores, the right conditions are being set for the sector to flourish,” said Foster.

For 20-minute neighbourhoods to be delivered Foster said communities themselves have to see the benefits of locally-available services and spaces, and be prepared to engage with time and effort to make them a vibrant reality. “Increased appreciation of the benefits that a local community supporting each other can bring, which has become apparent during lockdown, may well help to fuel enthusiasm for such projects,” said Foster.

Cat Hay, head of policy at Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland, said the blueprint chimed with her organisation’s aims. She particularly welcomed SCDI’s ambition for the reduction in trade and investment barriers with key and emerging markets to unlock a 5% increase in the share of the Scottish economy that comes from exports by growing free, fair, climate-friendly and digital trade.

She explained that her members were making great progress in achieving a more environmentally sustainable Scotland in areas such as reducing food waste, the use of more sustainable packaging, and reducing their CO2 emissions. “To help achieve Scotland’s net zero target it is important that energy transition funding is applicable to our small and medium-sized food and drink manufacturers,” she said.

Hay added: “Investing in people, skills and innovation is key to achieving the ambitions set out in the blueprint. Through our Scottish Government funded skills initiative, A Future in Food, we work with food and drink companies and other partners to promote careers in food and drink.

“Continued funding of this initiative is crucial to support a pipeline of highly skilled recruits. Another important area of this work is gaining insights on the future skills that food and drink companies need in areas like enhanced automation, artificial intelligence, circular economy and big data.”

Martin Bell, deputy director of trade at the Scotch Whisky Association, is chair of SCDI’s new International Business Committee that brings together business leaders with a wealth of experience in global trade. He describes the SCDI as an ideal convening place for those with interests in this area and says the body has a proven track record in international trade affairs.

In terms of what the committee will deliver, Bell said he would be keen on a ‘deep dive’ into the Global Scot network to better “harness the diaspora”. Global Scot aims to connect organisations in Scotland with worldwide business and community leaders.