The Aberdream is dead, the city that was once the Singapore of the North is now in terminal decline. Having lived there for five years and I consider it my home, I saw it go from a city of dreams to a city of ruin and all because it dared to vote No in the independence referendum. Today, Aberdeen was dealt another double whammy, not only will Debenhams, the department store at the heard of the city's shopping scene potentially face closure but both the city and the shire could be put into level 3 coronavirus restrictions despite already having an ad hoc localised lockdown in August which lasted for almost a month.
Aberdeen was once the centre of North Sea oil and the home of many wealthy investors and highly paid employees. This resulted in a massive boom for the Aberdeen economy which also saw the opening of fine dining restaurants and upmarket retailers. However, even before the pandemic the Granite City declined massively. In 2015-16, Aberdeen saw a 30% decline in revenue when oil prices hit lows of $30 (£23) a barrel. This resulted in over 65,000 job loses as well as a population decline of 15% and a 17% decline in visitation. In addition, much of Aberdeen's hospitality industry has been effected, particularly small local businesses, well known city favourites such as Prime Cuts Steak and La Tasca Tapas restaurants, have all been forced to close their doors and local businesses such as the Orchard Cafe and the Taylormade Cafe in the University library, have been forced to sell their businesses, the situation has not been helped by repeated lockdowns . Most recently the Hilton Hotel on the beach boulevard, which is fastly turning into the boulevard of broken dreams as the Greenday song goes, closed, which was once a hub for travellers from around the country, I myself have fond memories there of Christmas dinners and overnight stays during my years at University.
There seems to be little sign of a recovery. When I was in Aberdeen last week, I took a walk down Union Street with my friend and we estimated that over a third of the buildings were up to let. Union Street has never been as busy as I remember it in 2014 and 15, even with pedestrianisation. In 2020 things went from bad to worse, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been devastating, earlier this year oil prices turned negative, job vacancies are down 75% from what they were this time last year and workers in Aberdeen are more likely to made redundant than any other city in Scotland.
Aberdeen has been punished by a vindictive Scottish government that never had any love for the city due to the fact that nearly 60% of its citizens voted No in the 2014 independence referendum and the fact it is one of the more Conservative areas in Scotland where the values of business and enterprise are respected. In August the Scottish government took the decision to impose a localised lockdown where all hospitality was forced to close, having already been closed between March and July and was unable to benefit from Rishi Sunak's "eat out to help out" scheme that month, at the same time Glasgow was not moved into a lockdown despite a much higher prevalence of the virus there, obviously because it voted yes. However, the Scottish government kept Aberdeen in level 2 after the new tier system was introduced in Scotland, meaning hospitality could stay open until 10:30 pm and serve alcohol, this might have been designed to compensate for the closures in August.
Todays proposals to move Aberdeen up to level 3, where all hospitality is forced to close at 6pm and banned from serving alcohol will be devastating for local businesses. The city council must take a stand to save what is left of Aberdeen. Andy "the King in the North" Burnham has already shown how this can be done, if he doesn't have the power to stop Aberdeen moving to level 3 then council leader, Douglas Lumsden, should make clear his opposition to this and set out the impact this has on business in the area. Instead of going along blindly with whatever diktat the Scottish government comes out with. Its time for local authorities to stand up for themselves against a centralising government in Holyrood.