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Commonwealth city

Amid the shouted conversation of Glasgow City Mission, a bright and bustling independent, inter-denominational Christian charity evening drop-in service in Broomielaw dispensing food to those trapped in homelessness and poverty, opinions about the Commonwealth Games effect are nothing if not diverse.

For Craig Jones, a former painter and decorator with health problems, the influx of newcomers into the city is going to drive up rates of crime and begging during, and possibly after, the Games.

Last week, he was attacked and beaten by a group of men over a pound coin. "That shows you what kind of city this still is," he says, pointing at the half-healed gash on his forehead.

Andrew McDougal, sitting two tables away, says the problem is the risk of not enough people coming to Glasgow, not too many. He is hopeful that more tourism will re-energise the local economy, leading to more work and less poverty, but he doubts that outside interest in Glasgow will survive all that long after the closing ceremony.

While he is less inclined than some of those in for a free meal (which comes with a passage from the scriptures, as part of the Mission's Christian ethos) to berate Glasgow City Council for allegedly attempting to "cover up" signs of homelessness and poverty, he sees some measures, such as the proposed ban on begging, as a "quick fix" that fails to tackle the deeper problems.

From the perspective of Glasgow's least privileged citizens, the tangible benefits of the Games are better-lit, less dangerous streets in the east end. Claims of more jobs available are treated warily, though Ewan Clydesdale, the Church's city centre project manager, is prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to the idea that the Games will trigger more jobs and more investment.

He said: "We have a lot of housing that was pulled down in the 50s and 60s which was never replaced … we can do that now. We also need more jobs in the city, to get people off welfare culture and out of poverty."

These divergent views from the sharp end of Glasgow's ever-present social crisis are echoed elsewhere in Scottish society. Most, however, agree that a great deal is riding on this month's Commonwealth Games' ability to make a significant impact on poverty and social exclusion in Glasgow.

Alleviating Glasgow's problems would help remove some of the biggest barriers to economic growth in Scotland as a whole. To choose just a few of the ugly statistics available, according to the Child Poverty Action Group, alleviating child poverty alone costs Glasgow more than £295 million a year. Research by the University and College Union cites North East Glasgow as the worst place in the United Kingdom for academic attainment, and it is Scotland's number one unemployment black spot according to the Office for National Statistics.

Glasgow City Council is hopeful that such problems will find lasting solutions in Legacy 2014, the huge programme of development and regeneration launched in tandem with the Games.

It also points to the many economic gains that are already evident: more than £200m worth of contracts have been granted to local companies, while reports have claimed that the construction and refurbishment of the Games venues and the Athletes' Village will result in the creation of, on average, 1000 jobs per year for the next six years, though many of these jobs are temporary.

While many Glasgow City Mission regulars claim to know people who have found work based around the Games, they doubt that they will be keeping their jobs after the Games. Glaswegian cynicism dies hard. Inevitably, the Games run-up has not been a long street party.

According to a survey by Glasgow University, only 37% of people in the east end feel that they have been involved in the preparations for the Games, and that they had influence over decisions taken in the local area.

High-profile court battles between the council and east end resident Margaret Jaconelli, who claims that her eviction from her home by the council to make way for Commonwealth stadiums was in violation of her human rights, have also marred the image of community spirit.

Most people agree, though, that the refurbishment and regeneration of the east end, especially the new sports stadiums, will leave a more permanent, positive legacy.

Regeneration is seen by many as an opportunity for further change, rather than a guarantee of it. Carla McCormack, policy and parliamentary officer at the Poverty Alliance, a national anti-poverty awareness-raising network which works with community groups and policymakers, says that - if properly acted on to ensure lasting and meaningful change - the Commonwealth Games have huge potential to do good.

The Poverty Alliance wants to use the Games, and the huge media attention surrounding the event, to highlight the extent of poverty in Glasgow, and to change stereotypes about people in poverty.

McCormack says: "Too many people think that poverty comes about as a result of individual choices, when in fact it's because of a whole range of other factors, like the demand-sided job market."

She points to the risk of the media reinforcing tired tabloid clichés about the "benefits capital of Britain", citing, among others, the BBC documentary Commonwealth City which showed the east end in what the Poverty Alliance considered a biased and unfair light. Such stigmatisation, McCormack says, makes it harder to tackle the root causes of the social deprivation that casts a shadow over Glasgow and its Games.

Another central wedge of the city council's plans to transform the social and economic environment is its "more inclusive Glasgow" strategy, designed to encourage more active participation in the life of the city via a new wave of volunteering organisations.

Fostering such a culture would help disperse some of the negativism and passivity that are as lethal to Glasgow's economic growth prospects as they are to its notoriously poor health outcomes.

The volunteerism drive appears to have been remarkably successful - a record-breaking 50,811 people have volunteered for 15,000 places in roughly 300 community projects, and organisations in the city have been granted "legacy status", giving them the right to use the council's Glasgow 2014 Legacy logo.

Emulating the elusive but economically critical feelgood factor present in London in 2012 at the time of the Olympics, and at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games, has often been cited as a reason for Glaswegians to rally behind the Commonwealth Games.

However, as with those previous cities in the run-up to the opening ceremony, this picture of a city coming together to celebrate the Games has not yet quite made the leap from plan to reality.

For Professor David Bell, an economist at Stirling University, the hype surrounding these big events inevitably allows some to claim that expectations are not being fulfilled.

He says: "That goes with the territory, but nevertheless if an event is reasonably well-managed then there are many long-term benefits that can arise, particularly if you can get over the difficulties over the extent to which you can involve local businesses, which in turn depends on what your procurement rules might be.

"Obviously, you want to have as many locals involved as possible, and government definitely has a role by keeping the local business community well informed and by trying to draw up tenders that doesn't preclude them from bids.

"Anecdotally, I get the sense that this has been done reasonably well, and that involvement in large projects like the velodrome has opened doors for local companies."

But Bell does not think that the ingrained nature of Glasgow's socio-economic failures makes the city impervious to the kind of benefits that sporting spectaculars brought to east Manchester and east London.

He says: "I think we might be pleasantly surprised. Yes, there is a limit to the kind of benefits you can get, but if you don't organise yourself properly to maximise these benefits you won't get them, and I feel that Glasgow and the Scottish Government have gone about it the right way."

Bell also points out that Glasgow's Commonwealth Games have been well timed, providing huge employment and regeneration in the depths of a recession, and coming to fruition on a rising economic wave. Employment statistics show strong growth in jobs in Scotland, albeit too many of them being part-time and lower-quality posts.

He prompts the question of what would have happened if the Commonwealth Games had been in 2008 or 2009?

Seen from street level, or through the eyes of social work professionals, all but the most superficial benefits are unlikely to make life much easier in the short term. But no doubt they would prefer a lasting solution to a quick one.

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