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Glasgow not poor relation in tech family

Edinburgh’s tech sector is obviously much more buoyant than Glasgow’s, or so I’m regularly told … not least by some of our most senior politicians.

I’m not going to make a habit of commenting on every fresh report on how our city is doing, but I can’t resist emphasising the results from yesterday’s CBRE Tech Cities Report for 2019. 

The headline message is that Glasgow has risen three places to become the UK’s second most important tech hotspot outside London.  Manchester comes first and Edinburgh retains its position at third. 

It’s worth exploring this report in a bit more detail.  It uses 15 measures ranging from tech sector employment and tech SMEs through to presence of millennials, the quality of computer science degrees, salaries and tech demand for office stock. 

 So this is as much an assessment of the conditions for future growth as it is about the current scale of the tech sector.  It thinks about the circular relationship between the factors that attract tech talent and those that attract or encourage the growth of tech employers. 

The recent TotallyMoney report that put Glasgow in the top spot as the city for millennials to live covered similar factors.  And in both cases the reports have been using the Centre for Cities definitions of 63 towns and cities across the UK, which means Glasgow is taken to mean the primary urban unit that extends beyond the boundaries of Glasgow City Council and into the surrounding connected built up area. 

That captures just over one million of the Greater Glasgow population, helping to make the comparison with cities like Manchester and Birmingham much more realistic by taking out the effects of gerrymandered local authority boundaries.

Glasgow is reported to have 21,000 tech sector employees against Edinburgh’s 17,000 and Glasgow’s millennial population is almost 100,000 bigger than Edinburgh’s.  That has given Glasgow one of the Top Five tech labour pools outside London with a growth since 2012 of 29%, similar in vitality to all but Bristol in the Top Five list.  

Glasgow also ranks second only to Manchester in the measures CBRE use to rate a city’s educational assets, with a notable top ranking in the quality of computer science and information degrees.

Edinburgh has 2,435 tech SMEs against Glasgow’s 2,280 and I guess this is where the impression of some that Edinburgh is out-punching Glasgow has its foundation.  There’s no doubt the pipeline of new and growing tech SMEs is an essential component of a successful tech city and so we know that Glasgow has much more to do. 

That’s why we are especially keen on the new City Innovation District that the University of Strathclyde has launched in the city centre and the similar plans the University of Glasgow has for the areas around its main campus and the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. 

Whilst it’s important to understand how crucial Glasgow is to Scotland’s growing tech sector perhaps the bigger message is the sheer scale of the lead Manchester is reported to have in the CBRE assessment.  Manchester’s tech employment and its tech SME base are both more than twice the size of both Glasgow’s and Edinburgh’s combined.  

There are lessons to be learned from the relentless focus Manchester has had on its economic development but there is no reason to believe that together Glasgow and Edinburgh cannot close that gap in the years ahead.  But please, in the future, let’s not assume that Glasgow is the poor cousin.

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