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Glasgow’s report card: 'good but could do better'

Every year the independent London-based Centre for Cities produces a report on the economic outlook for Britain’s cities, says Stuart Patrick, chief executive, Glasgow Chamber of Commerce.

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Issued last month, the 2013 Report assesses 64 cities using almost 50 different performance indicators - and there are some decidedly mixed messages for Glasgow to absorb.

It’s always tempting to search out Edinburgh’s performance to make comparisons but the much more relevant benchmarks are the larger UK cities, many of which have been through the consequences of industrial collapse and reinvention in much the same way as has Glasgow.

So I specifically picked out England’s eight core cities (including Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool) and Belfast in Northern Ireland.

 I did look at London too, though it has to be acknowledged that the capital city is a very special case.  At over nine million, its population is more than the next eight cities put together and it plays a global role that no other city in the UK can come close to matching.  

Before exploring the detail, the Centre reports on a shorthand Recession Index with four indicators to show how the 64 cities have fared in what it describes as the two phases of the recession - the first from 2008-9 when the downturn was operating at full force and international trade went into sharp reverse, and the second from 2009- 2012 during which we have experienced faltering, painfully slow recovery. 

The conclusion for Glasgow here is much more positive than you might have expected.  In the first phase of the recession, we (along with the other Scottish cities) were much less dramatically affected than elsewhere in the UK.

In the second phase of recovery, the cities in the South show a much quicker bounce back to health, although Glasgow remains in the top half of cities overall.  The gap in performance between the North of England and the South and, to a lesser extent, the Midlands really begins to open up again as the economy recovers.

But the really helpful material is in the more detailed indicators. We all like to think that Scotland has the better education system.  Do we still have reason to say so?  Well on two indicators perhaps we do.  Over 40% of Glasgow’s working age population have qualifications at or above NVQ4 which beats Manchester (32%) and Birmingham (24%). We even come close to matching the London (45%). 

That’s a very significant competitive advantage and it shows through in the wages that working Glaswegians are earning; 7% higher than in Manchester and 10% over those in Birmingham. Education pays dividends, both for individuals and for cities.  

Some other issues stand out quite starkly.  Over the Census decade 2001-2011 London added over 900,000 new residents to its population.  Manchester added 129,200.  Birmingham 154,300.  Glasgow added just 12,400.  In relative terms that made it 59th out of 64 in the country.  It’s no surprise then that we have a very different attitude to the immigration policies now established in Westminster. 

We could benefit from attracting  even more highly skilled people to the city to fill the emerging vacancies we see in engineering and financial services and we haven’t come anywhere close to experiencing the pressures of population growth that have affected almost all of England. We have room to support our universities and colleges in attracting more students into the city.

Of course it will always be better if we can get more of our own youngsters achieving the qualifications they need.  Too many in Glasgow have no qualifications at all (14%). The gap with those of our competitors who outperform us - like Manchester (12%) or Sheffield (11%) - is not unbridgeable, and the latest results from Glasgow schools  suggest that welcome improvements are being made.  

Some indicators show where Glasgow has yet more work to do – a mid-table performance on business starts and a lower than average stock of businesses although again we are showing signs of modest relative improvement. We also need to see a faster rate of innovation if patent approvals per head of population are anything to go by. These are issues already included in Scotland’s economic strategy, so success in Glasgow will help the country as a whole.

For a very long time – since at least the early 1980s - we have been concerned about our employment rate. That’s the percentage of our working age population that are in work.  By July 2012 we stood at 66.3% with almost exactly 1 in 3 of our working age population not in work. It’s not good and we had begun to see some inroads being made when the recession hit.  But it’s notable that Glasgow is now outperforming Birmingham (62.3%), Liverpool (61.9%) and, by a whisker, Manchester (66%) - when we know that Glasgow’s health statistics are markedly worse than all of these. Bad health has been one very prominent reason why so many potential workers have stayed at home.

 And one other issue which always comes up is Glasgow’s perceived overdependence on public sector jobs.  The Centre for Cities makes it clear that for every public sector job in Glasgow there are 2.3 private sector jobs.  Sheffield, Newcastle and Liverpool all have a greater reliance on the public sector. And so does Edinburgh, even if only very marginally at 2.2 private sector jobs to every public one.

I cannot, of course, mention Edinburgh without acknowledging how well it comes out in the report overall.  In fact both Aberdeen and Edinburgh get good scores on many of the critical indicators. They compare well with cities of similar size across the UK. 

For Glasgow though it’s time to take stock. Manchester and Leeds are worth the watching especially now that the Treasury is devolving investment funds through new City Deals.  English cities will have new incentives to invest in the most sensible economic projects.  The pressure is definitely on for Scottish cities to respond. 

Glasgow’s educational advantage is one good place to start.

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