ON the south banks of the River Clyde, just across from Glasgow city centre, construction work on the mammoth Buchanan Wharf campus being developed by Barclays is temporarily on hold.

Rapid progress was being made on the £400 million project until restrictions necessitated by the spread of the devastating coronavirus led the banking giant to hit the pause button.

But the construction hiatus has not altered Barclays’ commitment to the project, as the bank’s Scottish chief Scott Stewart emphasised last week.

“We remain committed to building a world-class campus in Glasgow, and will continue construction when we get through this challenging time, in line with the government advice,” said Mr Stewart.

While some concern has been raised about conflicting messages from the UK and Scottish Governments over whether construction sites should be closed, Mr Stewart said: “I can’t comment on that, other than the fact that obviously we are in Scotland, and of the Scottish Government has given us advice and we have followed that. We felt it pertinent to follow the guidance the Scottish Government, but again, we remain committed to the building.”

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Mr Stewart, moreover, said it was too early to comment on whether the temporary suspension of construction would affect the scheduled completion date. Barclays is hoping the campus will begin to accommodate staff from late 2021. “As soon as we get advice from the Government we will start again, and whatever time we lose we will try and catch that up,” he said.

“But it is too early to say now.”

Halting work on the new campus, which will house 5,000 staff, is just one of a number of ways in which the coronavirus outbreak is shaping the bank’s work in Scotland at present.

The bank has responded to the seismic shock by flexing the services and terms it offers both business and personal customers to support them through the crisis. That includes 12-month capital repayment holidays on existing loans of £25,000 or more, and participation in the UK Government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, under which the Treasury is part-guaranteeing up to £330 billion of loans to support firms at this critical time.

While reports last week suggested hundreds of thousands of firms were at risk because they were struggling to get through to reach their banks on the phone, or being told they were ineligible for the new loans, Mr Stewart said Barclays staff in Scotland are “working around the clock to support our customers and colleagues and clients in these exceptional circumstances, whether that’s through our branches or our head offices.”

He said: “We see ourselves as a critical part of the infrastructure in making sure the economy stays resilient, and be there for our customers.”

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He added: “From our perspective, the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan scheme is live for Barclays customers. We worked tirelessly to get it up and running as soon as we possibly could.

“We are trying to respond to all queries. Equally, we know we need to be nimble because the position changes daily, both at a Covid-19 level at a macro-UK-economic level, as well as [with] what is happening with our customers.”

Asked whether it was a time for banks to step up for people and business, having been criticised for not doing enough to support customers after the global financial crash around a decade ago, Mr Stewart said: “I think we are. Obviously, I’m a bit biased, but I see all banks as a critical part of how we deal with Covid-19.

“If you look at what the Bank of England, the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority), the PRA (Prudential Regulation Authority) and the UK Government say, banks are a critical part of the infrastructure that will maintain the liquidity of the economy this time.”

Mr Stewart began his financial services career with Abbey in Glasgow, where he spent 10 years  before switching to Morgan Stanley. He joined Barclays 13 years ago.

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Shortly before the coronavirus outbreak, we met in the makeshift office where operations for the new campus are being directed.

The project was first announced in June 2018, when the bank secured the site as the location for a new technology, functions and operations hub, handing a major boost to financial services in the city.

Construction work has been rapid on the construction of the campus, which will initially house 5,000 staff in three core office blocks after staff from its existing offices in the city are relocated.

When it is ready the hub will become one of several strategic locations for the bank across the globe, alongside Pune, India, and Whippany, New York, which Mr Stewart said is part of an overarching strategy to “enhance how we interact with our clients and customers, provide the best possible service and attract the best talent.”

“Barclays has a very long history in Scotland,” he went on. “One of the founders was a Scot, his name was James Barclay, more than 300 years ago.

“We also have a very long history here in Glasgow. We have had a presence here in Scotland for over 30 years, and that has grown exponentially. That resulted in us being in a position where we have about 2,500 people.”

Mr Stewart, who became head of Barclays Scotland in November 2016, said the pipeline of talent in Glasgow has been instrumental in its decision to lay down roots.

He said the bank was also drawn to the prospect of regenerating a site that had lain derelict for 30 years, and extending the financial services district to the south banks of the Clyde.

The project will see it retain two listed properties, one being the Beko building, with the blueprint also providing for an “Eagle Lab” to support local entrepreneurs, and a 120-capacity creche.

Asked to comment on the quality of workforce Barclays and others such as JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley have been able to grasp in Glasgow, Mr Stewart said: “The education system is the starting point, and that is not just focused on universities. That is schools, higher education and further education.

“What all the companies have seen, as they have moved away from central hubs like London and New York, is a pipeline of people who are passionate, with a thirst to learn and an ability to transform customers’ lives.”

Six Questions

What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure and why?

I have been fortunate to have worked in several countries across Europe, Asia and also in America, but I always came back to Scotland because this is home. 

This is where I belong, and I couldn’t be more proud of the investment Barclays is making in my home city.

When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?

Professional golfer. I was long on enthusiasm, shorter on ability.

What was your biggest break in business?

My first job with a bank, not Barclays, but it set me on the track that got me to where I am now. We are lucky in Scotland to have a thriving financial services sector that offers a huge range of different jobs and fosters diversity. It’s not pinstripes and the FT.

What was your worst moment in business?

The worst moment has also been one of the proudest. The outbreak of Covid-19 has had a profound effect on all of us. It’s not clear when it will end or its true cost.  But I have been very proud of my colleagues in Barclays pulling together, stepping up, and working flat-out under challenging circumstances to support those who need our help most. 

Who do you most admire and why?

My mother. I watched her build a successful residential letting business over 40 years. She instilled in me principles that have guided me through my career – surround yourself with great people, look after them, trust them.

What book are you reading and what music are you listening to?

Quiet Leadership by football manager Carlo Ancelloti.  Less quietly, I am listening to George Bowie’s GBX.

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