The Scotsman Comment: It’s time to make our communities sing again by Marie Macklin


Renowned Scottish entrepreneur Marie Macklin, founder of the Halo Urban Regeneration Company that is focused on eco-friendly mixed-use developments, details the great need she sees for action to breathe new life into and reignite the potential of communities.

When the political turbulence of the SNP’s leadership election settles, our new First Minister will have a substantial in-tray of problems to contend with, that’s for sure. And I don’t want to add to the workload, but it needs to include resetting the relationship between the country and the business community. There is an urgency to addressing the cost of doing business, the cost of living, and the need to get on with already-agreed strategies.

Some recent key economic policies of the Scottish Government are welcome. The National Strategy for Economic Transformation says many of the right things, but now there is need for delivery. The new National Planning Framework has also been strong for some sectors, particularly renewables and energy.

But where sustainable economic growth had consensus before, and was actually a cornerstone of Scottish Government economic policy, it now feels almost controversial with a party that is unsure of itself, largely due to its coalition agreement with the Green Party.

Scotland does have opportunities to grow, but if we don’t seize them, we will sit still and ultimately be condemned to decline. Growth is not the enemy or some ugly capitalist concept. Growth in the right sectors delivers transformation, which in turns delivers a fairer future. Ambitious social interventions can only be funded by a well-functioning, dynamic economy.

Both the UK and Scottish governments should commit to it and work together to deliver it rather than fight over jurisdiction during a crisis. Business – both large and small – should be supported and the real pressures recognised, rather than added to. Relationships matter, and once a new First Minister is in position, we need to get back to business! Today we face a crisis in our communities – in health, food, finance, energy and politics.

I grew up in Ayrshire in the 1970s. A Kilmarnock girl, I watched as the industries built by men and women of greatness – coal mining, steel, carpet-making and others – were brought to their knees. My town was dying, as the music band, The Jam, put it in 1982, it was like a “Town Called Malice”. Such was this malaise that, first chance I got, I was off to try and find work and a career. Today, sadly it feels remarkably similar.

But the biggest challenge on our horizon, and the most damaging, is climate – or more precisely climate change. How can we fuel up the enormous resources required to address this community risk before it is too late? With budgets strained and support for households ravaged by the high cost of living, governments have limited spare capacity. Of course they do, so private sector finance will be imperative to deliver the trillions needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees and reach this net-zero dream.

Having worked in some of the most deprived communities in Scotland and the UK for the last 30 years on urban regeneration projects, I know that unlocking that private finance is, at the best of times, difficult as the margins are tight. Now, we might talk of reaching net zero by 2045, but unless the finance houses change their lending criteria, I fear the worst for our poorest communities.

A prime example of this is Kilmarnock, where it has taken 15 years to put funding in place to drive forward the former Diageo/Johnnie Walker site. It should never take that long. Meanwhile markets change, demand changes, and it is the people in our communities who lose out and pay the price of ill-informed policies.

We do not lack ambition. The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) was the big headline at COP26 Glasgow when 550 of the world’s leading financial institutions committed to reduce their financial emissions in line with 1.5 degrees. With $150 trillion ($125tn) of combined balance sheets, it seemed that the GFANZ has the scale of financial resources to address the world’s most pressing problems. However, 16 months later, I do not see much evidence of these fine words trickling through to our most deprived communities in Scotland in the form of financial opportunity.

Granted, the GFANZ has now produced a comprehensive framework for the net-zero transition plans of financial institutions and companies, and transition means financing climate solutions and the growth of companies already aligned with net zero. But it also means going to where the emissions are and backing companies with credible transition plans to get emissions down. A just transition requires financial institutions to support the managed phase-out of stranded assets.

I note all of GFANZ’s work will be held to account by a new Net-Zero Data Public Utility. By this time next year, the data utility will provide consistent, accurate, openly available climate transition-related data to allow financial institutions, regulators, civil society and the general public to track climate progress. Therefore, based upon my real, localised experience, governments need to do much more, particularly in the area of financial regulation.

They need to align financial regulation with our net zero ambitions by making transition plans mandatory with an emphasis on deprived localised communities. They must develop economy-wide transition plans and sector-specific pathways.

We need to look after our people, our communities with their huge beating hearts and start driving capital and grants into the heart of forgotten industrial power houses at grassroots level and at a scalable level. Only in this way will we make our communities sing again.

You can also read the full piece on The Scotsman website here.