Glasgow – a dynamo of great value to the nation
Published by Anne Marie Hughes on Sat 09 Jun 12 @ 22:12
By Douglas Fraser, BBC Scotland's Business and Economy Editor.
Not everyone likes the design of BBC Scotland's headquarters on the south bank of the Clyde. One Glasgow cabbie informed a tourist, I'm told, that it was the container in which the Science Centre was delivered.
The view out of it is not in dispute. It's a privilege to work there. From the fourth floor, I look north across the Clyde, from which I can see a broad sweep of the Kilpatrick Hills and Campsie Fells.
The view takes in Glasgow University tower, the Crowne Plaza Hotel, the Armadillo and, now taking its extraordinary shape, the Hydro Arena.
Much of it makes for a modern vista, but Pacific Quay packs quite a historic punch too. On that dockside, the second city of the British Empire landed tobacco, cotton and sugar. Govan became the heart of the huge industrial success story that the Clyde represented, as well as the heart of its decline.
This is where the Garden Festival took place in 1988, and it's now the Digital Quarter carrying hopes - even if the reality's been stalled - that creativity and technology will combine inspirationally.
If there's one thing that astonishes me most about this world class cityscape, it's how little the river's used. So my plea to members of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce is to use it.
There are plans to develop the Broomielaw, and turn the financial district towards the Clyde. But why isn't there an affordable river bus between Glasgow Green and Braehead? The docking pontoons are in place. Although the wind may blow, it's rarely too choppy for taking to the water. Yet the only service is infrequent, seasonal and priced for tourists. A regular service could be like having a new underground line, but with rather less tunnelling cost. And it would mean fewer of us commuting by car.
Please excuse the indulgent use of this soapbox. The plea is part of my reason for occupying this space: to praise Glasgow, as an incomer from a city to the east, pointing to places I see both achievement and opportunity. Yes, there are aspects that alarm me; areas of entrenched lack of aspiration as much as poverty: a simmering aggression: and some of the culture that swirls around football that's too often accepted or even celebrated as part of Glasgow's industrial-strength charm. Yes, private sector leaders can and do play a role in tackling such blights. They can see that, in Glasgow, you're never far from a challenge.
What I can also see, in reporting on Scotland's economy for the BBC, is that the city is a dynamo of great value to the nation. I can see it in the small businesses across many sectors, most obviously in retail and hospitality. I can see that its global significance is not a thing of the past.
Defying the economic downturn, companies based in Glasgow are doing extraordinarily well. Weir Group and Aggreko are not big employers in the city, but driven from Clydeside they are in the sweet spot of growth opportunities for energy. In the world view these companies share, there is no downturn. Their markets in Asia, and increasingly in Africa, are booming. Long-term prospects are bright.
Glasgow's educational strengths are perhaps too often taken for granted. Universities can be seen as the provider of skilled labour, in which Glasgow's labour market excels. But the private sector too often fails to exploit the potential of universities on their doorstep. Scotland's public sector spend on research and development is relatively strong. Its private sector spend is dismal, and the most recent figures suggest it's going backwards.
At least one sector that knows it has to work with the best in technology and social science is renewable energy. Realising its potential requires the deployment of financial skills as well as commercialisation of tidal and wave power, which still remains some years off.
Many of these skills are in Aberdeen and Edinburgh too, and keep in mind these city economies benefit from working with one another. Glasgow's carving out a niche in engineering, design and management of renewable energy. It looks like a smart place to be. I'm not the first person to write or talk of Glasgow's past engineering greatness being reborn, but I don't mind joining others in urging on those who can make it happen.
Douglas Fraser and the BBC Scotland business team are on TV, radio, online (www.bbc.co.uk/businessscotland) and Twitter (@BBCDouglsFraser). The 'Business Scotland' programme is on BBC Radio Scotland each Sunday at 10.05, and available as a podcast. The business team is keen to hear from those with interesting stories to tell: from innovative firms of all sizes: from those who want to talk about challenges they face: and from people with opinions to share, including feedback from viewers, listeners and readers. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org