Scotland’s largest city is rising to the challenge of hard times, writes ANN McKECHIN. Others should follow its example

 

Budgets are being squeezed everywhere and it’s a worrying time for Scotland. But recent news from the city of Glasgow can give us hope that, despite a rocky 2011, our Scottish cities can succeed if they show drive and vision. Glasgow is certainly one city bucking the trend.

Last week Glasgow raced up 13 places, taking 33rd spot in the Global Financial Centres Index (GFCI) and has taken 10th place in the European rankings. Edinburgh by contrast has slipped dramatically from the initial GFCI report in March 2007 when it was ranked 15th in the world to 32nd. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the fall in fortunes for Edinburgh has happened around the same time as the administrations at both city council and Holyrood changed hands and the mismanagement of the trams project began. I know from my years as a Glasgow MP that attracting such big names to invest doesn’t just happen by accident and it requires a lot of dedicated hard work.

A similar amount of effort went into landing the filming of Brad Pitt’s new film World War Z in George Square. Around 1200 people worked on the film in the city centre and according to Glasgow City Council, brought (as well as Brangelina Fever) an estimated £2 million to the local economy. Glasgow Film Office worked tirelessly with the production over a period of months to help secure locations in the city. The filming was a huge success and a welcome boost to the city’s profile and I hope it marks the beginning of a new stage in Glasgow’s relationship with the Big Screen.

And just this week Glasgow’s forward thinking was demonstrated by Glasgow University’s decision to charge rest of UK (RUK) fees of £6750 a year, capped at £26,000 for a four-year degree, at a time when other “ancient” Scottish universities have chosen to hike their fees to the full amount, making their degrees the most expensive in the UK. Even more encouraging was Glasgow Uni’s commitment to offer significant fee waivers and further bursaries to students from low income households, which for some students could be worth as much as £12,000 across the course of a typical four-year degree. To exclude poorer students from south of the border is not only wrong, but is also incredibly short sighted. The university has seen the value in trying to attract the brightest minds from wherever they might come from in the UK, whatever their background, and should be commended.

Even in tough times, Glasgow has pushed for a better deal for its citizens. When the Coalition scrapped the Future Jobs Fund, the council stepped in with the Commonwealth Jobs Fund and the Commonwealth Apprenticeship Scheme, which is the biggest scheme of its kind in the country. Glasgow was the first local authority to introduce the Living Wage, meaning 150 companies employing 50,000 people in the city have signed up. And just last week it was announced the Living Wage will increase in April to £7.20. Tourism, which brings some £600 million a year to the city’s economy, was boosted when the city council reinstated the Air Route Development Fund, scrapped by the Scottish Government, but essential for attracting new routes in and out of the city.

And all this before the Commonwealth Games 2014 tickets are even printed.

In spite of austere and challenging times and budgets, Glasgow can still succeed. Isn’t it time other cities took a leaf out of its book?

Ann McKechin is the Labour MP for Glasgow North and Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland.