27 Oct 2021
By Stuart Patrick, Chief Executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce
If we judge the impact of COP26 by the scale of its economic impact on Glasgow, we are missing the point. No formal assessment of economic impact has passed across Glasgow Chamber’s desk and nor would we have expected one to do so. This conference is about tackling climate change. This is not like the Commonwealth Games or any of the other major sporting or cultural events the city has staged in the past thirty years. It need not be justified by the standard measures of economic return.
Whether it will be a successful step in reducing global warming remains to be seen but it is hard to imagine how else progress will be made without gathering the planet’s leaders together, and on this occasion it is Glasgow that will play host. That in itself is a sign of the progress the city has made and highlights the growing contribution that the Scottish Events Campus is making to the city’s economy.
As the city’s Chamber of Commerce we had expected we would be fielding media questions about economic impact and that is exactly what is happening. Frequent concerns include how businesses will handle traffic congestion, potential protest disruption and the myriad of opportunistic strikes that are being mooted. Glasgow City Council and other host city partners set up the Get Ready Glasgow website as a channel to help businesses plan ahead and we strongly support that initiative. Whatever the city knows about the practical challenges posed by COP26 is to be found there.
It is certainly true that security measures, protests and industrial action make it much more difficult to estimate what the economic consequences will be. Glasgow’s city centre remains a long way from full recovery from the pandemic, with the most recent data suggesting that even in the core retail streets footfall is over 20% lower than pre-Covid. That amounts to over 1 million visits lost each month. It’s unlikely COP26 will fill that gap. Whilst the conference is on, messaging on congestion and strikes will be causing locals to reduce their visits to the centre, and one of the most common questions from our members is whether to close offices in the city centre or around the SEC.
There are though many reasons for Glasgow to be optimistic about COP26. Certainly the city’s growing hotel industry will get a welcome boost. Occupancy rates have struggled all the way through the pandemic and COP26 is an opportunity to make up just a little of the ground that has been lost. Hospitality venues with event space will also be doing better and with a bit of luck some of our new visitors will want to return in the years ahead.
But the more intangible business benefits are likely to be much more important. Hundreds of the world’s most senior business people will be in town and there are events taking place all across the city, with corporate decision makers who would usually be beyond our reach. Glasgow’s own business community will not be slow to grasp the opportunity.
In partnership with the Scottish Government, through just one of our events, we are bringing 80 overseas businesses into contact with our member companies explicitly to explore new trading links. Major companies like COP26 sponsors Scottish Power and Royal Bank of Scotland, our colleges and universities, and overseas organisations like the New York Times and Bloomberg are all running business engagement programmes. This may be less visible to the Glasgow public than the main conference but the connections made may have impacts years after the last delegate has left the city.
This article was first published in The Herald on Wednesday 27 October 2021