‘I warmly welcome Perth’s ambition to become the most sustainable small city in Europe, and particularly your goal to ensure that people, communities and businesses all play their part, to prepare for and implement the global biodiversity framework at local level. Your work will be an inspiration for other cities to jumpstart a year of action on biodiversity of creating connections and partnerships for transformational change.’ - Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the Convention of Biological Diversity

The Perth Leadership Forum is made up of volunteers – drawn from local private and third sector leaders and representatives, working with the council and others to raise the profile of Perth, champion its fortunes, help deliver positive change and, we hope, to build a future we can all believe in.  There is some fantastic expertise and dynamism within the group – all of whom want to see Perth (and P&K & Tayside) be as successful as it can be.  We want it to be the best place to live, work and grow up, not by accident but by design.

And with an ever-changing world around us and a massive need to tackle various global challenges, not least the climate change and biodiversity crises, we believe it is essential that we underpin everything we do next with a core of sustainability.  Our vision then remains to try to become the most sustainable small city in Europe.

So what does it mean for a city like Perth to deliver that vision, to attract the right businesses, to make itself more robust for future challenges to ensure we thrive.

Well above all else it needs collaboration and action.   This is about building a future which responds to our moral and societal obligations to make a better world for ourselves and our children.  But it is about much more than that.   It is about a vision of hope and prosperity.  And by building on our existing and historical strengths, and by walking the walk, we can lift Perth’s ambition, lift its profile and build its unique appeal to people and businesses.   It can become the must have address for all the many businesses operating in the sustainability field – and that is almost all of them.

Perth is not without its challenges.  It is not viewed as favourably as it could be on the national stage, it feels as if it is constantly overlooked and its economy is precarious – an over reliance on retail (which has clearly been shown to have significant frailties in the event of covid and an uncertain future) and the diminution of its importance for its energy, insurance, whisky and other industries and traditions.  Agriculture remains a stalwart of the economy, but could be higher profile.  And tourism remains important, yet Perth has one of the lowest hotel room rates in the UK, relatively poor capacity and mystifyingly, for me anyway, appears to be a place people would rather go round than come to.  

Since the closure of Caithness glass, the cattle mart, the Fire HQ, the decampment to Glasgow of Highland Distillers and the recent Ovo energy announcement and the takeover of Stagecoach and all the other changes, it is clear that Perth needs to work harder than ever to sustain its economic livelihood, and to keep young people employed in secure jobs.  But to do that successfully we need to do several things.  We need to build the belief in Perth (and Perthshire & Kinross) – starting with a more defined sense of place and purpose.  We need people who care about this area to step up and help promote and deliver.   We need Perth to be more ambitious.  And we need a vision people can aspire to and gather round. 

We don’t just want to be more sustainable because we like sustainability.  We want to be more sustainable because it is in our DNA. It is in the make-up of Perthshire.  It is in the fabric and the history.  It is what our existing businesses rely on.  It is what brings tourists to want to visit Perth.  It is what brings people to want to live in Perth.  It is what our future demands.  It is what our young people need from us.  And its something the whole world is striving towards.

By embracing sustainability and making it front and centre of our planning and actions, and wrapping our strategy around it, it can also become a beacon of positive change – a focus of opportunity and a reason for people to want to invest in, live in and visit the area.    Perth has a history of leading change and a boldness of conviction.   And as one of Scotland’s smaller cities we not only have the integrity to lead on this globally critical issue, we also have the scale to deliver meaningfully against it too.  

If Perth can’t tackle sustainable transport, especially as the home of Stagecoach, how can larger more complex cities?  If Perth can’t be more far-sighted, especially as the home of Aviva, after all insurance is one of the most far-sighted industries there is, then who will?  If Perth can’t do more to use local food and produce, especially with a long history of high quality food production, what hope have Glasgow and Edinburgh and London of doing so?  If Perth can’t develop more sustainable energy systems, especially with companies like SSE on its doorstep, well who can?  The challenges are enormous, there is no question of that.  We are trying to reverse at least 250 years of damage to our environment, to our atmosphere, to our oceans, our forests and our capacity to use our land.   These are not insignificant.  But every city, every country is waking up to the need to do the same.  And we have a chance to help lead that change.  The UK is in most part the leading country within the G20, because people at home care about this stuff.  Scotland is leading within the UK.  And whilst everyone still has an awful lot to do, Perthshire has the potential to lead in Scotland.

Aspiring to be the most sustainable small city in Europe might sound over ambitious.   But ambition drives vision.  It emboldens action.  It focuses effort.  And it galvanises interest and support.  We have had a really positive response from people throughout the area, and nationally and internationally to this vision, and this is hugely heartening.  But now we need to start delivering action.  If Perth (and Perthshire and Kinross-shire Council) is the where, sustainability is the what and the why.

If Perth can coordinate its efforts to become the most sustainable small city in Europe, it will drive investment.  It will help define our distinct identity.  It will help drive our economic fortunes.  It will improve our social well-being.  It will engage our communities.  And it will make us more resilient in a country and a world that is increasingly aware of the need to address climate change and biodiversity loss.  

A key strand of this is to play to our existing strengths.  We are the heart of big tree country, surrounded by woodland on most sides, named after our natural environment, with Kinnoull hill towering over us to the east and the inches north and south.  We have a beautiful clean river running through the middle with otters, beavers and seals and some of the best regarded salmon fishing in Europe.  How can we not aim to become Scotland’s natural capital?   The natural world is in crisis, so we cannot rest on our laurels.   But we are in a fantastic position to build on this natural strength.  Because if Perth cannot become the biodiversity capital of Scotland – well where exactly can?

'Talking is important but doing is much more important - having great strategies, great visions and good talks matter, but it’s not enough, doing is the key and it does not have to be big things, everyone can do something. Perth can be the most sustainable small city, it just has to do it, and there are so many reasons to do it happily’ - Mayor Pekka Timonen of Lahti in Finland, European Green Capital of 2021.