Living and working in Edinburgh

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Over the years there has been some inter-city jousting as to whether Edinburgh or Manchester is the UK's second financial centre, but there is no contest really: it is Edinburgh.

The many well-known Scottish financial institutions that are headquartered in the capital - Scottish Widows, The Royal Bank of Scotland, Standard Life, AEGON UK (formerly Scottish Equitable) - have been joined by leading foreign players, such as Franklin Templeton, whose European investment management business is based in Edinburgh, and Deutsche Bank, which has located a large fund administration function there.

All this has turned Edinburgh into one of Europe's leading financial centres.

One of the city's chief attractions for international companies is the large pool of well-educated people. Companies such as Scottish Widows, which moved the entire Hill Samuel investment management operation to Edinburgh when it merged with Lloyds TSB, also report little difficulty in attracting staff from outside Scotland.

Lifestyle

The biggest draw is quality of life. Edinburgh has everything that a capital should have - it even has a parliament now - but in a smaller, more manageable space than is usual.

Commuting times are trivial compared to what is considered routine in London or Paris, and house prices, though they have been on a steep upward trajectory, are more reasonable too. High ceilings and generous living spaces are the norm.

Not for nothing is Edinburgh known to locals as 'Auld Reekie'. The treacly scent of hops from the breweries assails visitors the minute they enter the Scottish capital, as noticeably as the sweet perfume of money.

On the social side Edinburgh has pubs and clubs to suit all tastes, and pub opening hours are longer than anywhere else in the UK.

The city boasts a huge number of bars for its size, so whether you are looking for an industrial rock venue, a schmoozy wine bar or a traditional folk pub, you will be able to find it.

As everywhere in Scotland, restaurants in Edinburgh have undergone a pleasing revolution over the past five years or so, whereby lasagne and chips has been largely abandoned in favour of 'contemporary Scottish' cuisine.

That means really quite good food, made with fresh local produce and accompanied by vegetables that have not been boiled to oblivion. Stornoway black pudding, smoked venison, fresh Orkney salmon, clootie dumpling - how could you resist?

Another plus for Edinburgh is that it is easy to get out of. The Scottish Highlands boast some of the most spectacular scenery in Europe and in little over an hour you can be at Loch Lomond or a similar beauty spot.

A slightly longer trip will take you to the Cairngorms with its skiing slopes, the Cuillins, which have the best mountaineering and rock-climbing in Britain, or the bleak beauty of the Western Isles, where - in addition to solace for urban souls - there is excellent sailing and kayaking. The Border Country to the south of the city provides gentler countryside and walking.

But you might feel less need to get out the city in Edinburgh than you would elsewhere. Whether you are in the elegant squares of the New Town, the meandering wynds of the ancient centre up on the Mound, or on the regenerated waterfront in Leith, you cannot help noticing that Edinburgh is one of Europe's most beautiful cities. And with a population of under 500,000 it has none of the oppressive sprawl of larger centres.

Culture

Everyone knows the Edinburgh Festival, and although constant streams of colourful, jolly people can sometimes fray a working person's nerves, living in the city when the festival is on is an exhilarating experience. It is also an unrivalled opportunity to sample the very best (and, admittedly, sometimes the very worst) of international artistic talent.

But Edinburgh does not confine itself to one month of culture a year. Top-class venues such as the Usher Hall, the Edinburgh Playhouse, the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, and art spaces such as the National Gallery of Scotland, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the Talbot Rice Gallery, along with many smaller alternative outlets, provide year-round fodder for culture vultures.

Financial services professionals moving to Edinburgh will find a vibrant, cosmopolitan city and an increasing breadth of job opportunities. At the beginning of this year assets under management in Scotland (most of which are Edinburgh-based) reached a record high of 351 billion (€490 billion). Thomson Financial ranks Scotland as the sixth-largest fund management centre in Europe.

Fifteen percent of the UK's life assurance and pension management business is based in Scotland (again mainly in Edinburgh), and the city is also a significant European banking centre. Its status in banking was enhanced by The Royal Bank of Scotland's (RBS) takeover in 2000 of NatWest, which catapulted RBS to third position among European banks by market capitalisation.

There is a strong commitment to expand further an industry worth over 17 billion in direct and indirect outputs per annum. A body called Scottish Financial Enterprise (www.sfe.org.uk) has been established to promote Scotland as a European financial centre.

It is backed by both Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Executive, and the three organisation are currently developing a financial services strategy for the nation.

Visas and taxes

Citizens of EU and some other European countries are entitled to work in the UK without a permit. Other nationals will need one, which can be obtained through an employer if it can show that noone suitable is available locally. Spouses of those allowed to work may work themselves without a permit.

As in the rest of the UK, basic rate income tax is 22% and a rate of 40% applies above earnings of 29,400 a year. The Scottish parliament has the power to increase income tax, but has not so far done so.

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