It was fantastic to spend time in Glasgow last week, and take part in a special Think Cities event at the 17th Glasgow State of the City Economy Conference, hosted by the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce.
Expertly chaired by the Chief Executive of the Chamber Stuart Patrick, I was joined by cities expert Greg Clark for a discussion on why we should think about city devolution primarily in an economic context, and what the future for Glasgow may hold.
In particular, two main themes dominated the conversation:
1. Glasgow has enjoyed high profile successes in 2014, but how can it build on this momentum?
While events like the Commonwealth Games brought many benefits to the city and demonstrated that Glasgow could deliver an ambitious and logistically complex event, the future of the city economy depends upon getting the economic fundamentals right to create an effective and attractive business environment that encourages investment.
That means continuing to improve the infrastructure of the city, improving skills levels and investing in training and development. And it means continuing to work with partners across local government and the private sector to deliver on ambitious growth plans for the city-region.
2. If Scotland gets more power, does that mean Glasgow will?
As one would expect at an event attended predominantly by Glaswegians, delegates were enthusiastic about the prospect of more devolution from Westminster to Holyrood. But the concern remains that devolution to Scotland will not mean more power to Scottish cities, but rather, a centralisation of power within the Scottish Parliament.
With Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield vying for further devolution from Westminster, delegates were keen to understand how Glasgow can ensure it is not left behind, and receives the powers and funding it needs to drive growth in the future. It is not yet clear how this agenda will play out in England or Scotland, but there was consensus that advocates of more powerful city-regions need to keep the pressure on in the weeks and months ahead.
Following our session I also took in Council leader Gordon Matheson’s address to delegates, and was surprised and pleased at how much attention was focused on the recently announced City Deal for Glasgow and the Clyde Valley.
Matheson made a compelling pitch to businesses in the room that Glasgow’s economy is best viewed as a “city-region”, and that the Deal announced earlier this year will provide significant funding for projects stretching across the wider economic geography. He stressed the importance of local government working across traditional boundaries both to tackle the challenges of growth, and address the persistent pockets of deprivation and poverty that blight parts of the city. But he also made it clear that it was only by supporting businesses to grow and thrive that the economy of the city-region would fulfil its potential.
This event brought to a close the series of Think Cities sessions that we have been running across the UK in 2014, in order to stimulate debate and encourage local leaders, businesses and residents to set out the case that meeting the big challenges of today and tomorrow– from housing and wages, to unemployment and skills – will necessitate whoever wins the next Election to put cities at the heart of their policy agenda.
Working with city councils, chambers of commerce and other business groups, we have welcomed over 400 people to sessions in Newcastle, Sheffield, Nottingham, Bristol, Birmingham and Glasgow. The Centre for Cities is keen to keep these conversations going in 2015, so stay tuned for more details on our next round of events shortly.