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Glasgow can prosper despite the downturn

GLASGOW Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stuart Patrick is worried about the impact of welfare cuts on the city's economy, but is upbeat about the general outlook for his patch amid the UK downturn.

POSITIVE OUTLOOK: Glasgow Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stuart Patrick. Picture: John Young
POSITIVE OUTLOOK: Glasgow Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stuart Patrick. Picture: John Young

Mr Patrick highlighted the potential for Glasgow to develop its engineering, life sciences and low-carbon sectors.

And, while flagging up the impact of welfare cuts on households as well as high youth unemployment, which is prevalent throughout the UK, he also highlighted skills shortages in the engineering sector.

Citing the continuing programme of cuts in welfare spending by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition, Mr Patrick said: "We have still to consider the sustained impact of the public spending cuts and the welfare reforms. I am not saying we are sitting with panic written across our foreheads [but] there is still an adjustment process to be gone through in terms of welfare reforms.

"There will be a lot of households in Glasgow which will not have as much in their pockets as they have."

Asked which parts of the Glasgow economy would be affected most by these welfare cuts, Mr Patrick replied: "It is anyone with a heavy reliance on the local consumer. It is going to be the ones [businesses] that maybe haven't quite responded quickly enough to the circumstances.

"Retail may be a good example. We know the companies that are doing well. We know why they are doing well. We know why John Lewis is doing well in the difficult markets – because they have a quality offering."

Expressing his general optimism about the potential for the Glasgow economy, given its asset base, Mr Patrick said: "I am just encouraged by the fact that I certainly feel much more confident about that asset base. If I look around at some of the industries that we have said are going to be important to the city, the more we dig into that, the more we think they genuinely should be quite important to the future of the city."

In particular, he highlighted Glasgow's engineering base, its presence in low-carbon industries as the renewables revolution continues, and its expertise in life sciences.

He said there were "really strong opportunities" in life sciences, in the low-carbon and wider energy sector, and in engineering. Mr Patrick saw potential for Glasgow to attract inward investment in engineering by increasing its skills base in this sector. He also highlighted the importance of training up engineers to replace ageing workforces in some of the big indigenous companies.

He said: "I would like to see a lot more graduate engineers. I would like to see a lot of technicians coming out of the college sector."

Mr Patrick also cited the co-operation of the business, academic and state sectors in pursuing economic opportunities for the city. He cited the part played by Glasgow City Council and economic development agency Scottish Enterprise. He also highlighted the efforts of Strathclyde University principal Professor Sir Jim McDonald in the fields of engineering and renewables.

And Mr Patrick, who saw an opportunity for Glasgow to emphasise what it had to offer in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games and independence referendum in 2014, declared: "The role that Glasgow plays in Scotland has been understated not just by the country, but by us."

Mr Patrick, meanwhile, highlighted large-scale development projects in Glasgow city centre, including the extension of the Buchanan Galleries shopping centre and the creation of new office space.

He also cited the success of the city in attracting conferences with big delegate numbers to the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, and the development of Glasgow's hotels sector.

Asked how he believed the Glasgow economy had performed in the last year, Mr Patrick lamented the lack of disaggregated output or export figures, but added: "I would be surprised at a Glasgow regional level if we were not seeing the benefits of success in engineering and whisky in particular."

"If we had the statistics available, I would probably be saying it is not as gloomy as some are suggesting."

Mr Patrick drew a contrast with the situation during parts of the 1980s and 1990s – when he said Glasgow "would have been a problem child for the country" – by citing recent figures showing a rise in the city's population and a fall in multiple deprivation indicators.

He highlighted Glasgow's staging of the Commonwealth Games in 2014 as something that should help drive forward the city's economy.

He said: "The Commonwealth Games is still there – still doing the job it is meant to be, which is give us motivation, keep us focused, give us something to aim towards, to provide us with that energy."

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