WHAT role do cities have to play in driving Scotland’s economic recovery? Growth, job creation and innovation are not the sole domain of our central hubs but there is no doubt that the decisions being taken now by our policy setters could see the places that should be the beating heart of our communities become urban deserts of the future.

Scottish Parliament election manifestos issued by various Chambers of Commerce ahead of last week’s election made it plain that we need to see the economy and its sustained recovery at the heart of policy, combined with new, closer partnership working.

We’ve also stressed the need for plans and measures from government to support the recovery of our cities and city centres, which are vital to the economic, cultural, social wellbeing of Scotland.

City centres have suffered disproportionately through the pandemic and we need to ensure that they are fully supported through the recovery. Which is why Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh Chambers, along with Glasgow School of Art, Brodies and Anderson Anderson & Brown, are collaborating on Scotland’s Urban AGE II, the follow up to a report first published in 2018 that examined what was going well, what was not and recommended a series of strategic ideas, interventions and actions aimed at enabling the three cities to become leading players on the global stage.

That initial report concluded that the available evidence showed that the AGE cities are the key drivers of the Scottish economy and that if they are performing well, the spin-off benefits top other towns, cities and rural areas were clear.

The new report, due to publish in the Autumn, will consider what has changed in light of Covid-19 and the accelerating net zero carbon agenda regarding the ability of our principal cities to deliver on their ambitions. And there is no doubt that Covid-19 has changed the landscape. City centres have been hit hard by the restrictions put in place by governments to manage the pandemic, their finely balanced ecosystems of retail, culture, hospitality, residential and offices usually operate with people at their heart. And as we have seen over the year, when any of these are out of balance, then the others are likely to fail.

What also remains clear however is that our three main cities have much to offer in terms of creating vibrant places for people to live, work and visit, and the success of these cities benefits the country far beyond Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh’s regional boundaries. It will, however, take collaborative effort, investment and commitment to realise this potential.

From employment to culture, housing to transport and much more, the research is intended to inform and spark discussion around how the private and public sectors, along with empowered local communities, can work together to create a new, sustainable urban agenda that benefits the whole country, helping to create vibrant places that people choose to spend time in.

The outcomes of it will include a range of scenarios and ideas developed in partnership with Scotland’s business communities indicatively outlining the support that Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh will require to enable recovery and the direction of travel they must take towards successfully delivering an improved future for their people.

The role of Scotland’s largest cities in attracting investment and creating jobs has been a success story which the first Urban AGE report explored in depth. The pandemic has thrown up some fundamental challenges to our cities and especially to our city centres. Urban Age II will help us carefully consider the evidence and avoid adopting impulsive assumptions about the way ahead.

Russell Borthwick is the chief executive of Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce