MORE than half a billion pounds has been earned by the charitable organisation which runs Scotland’s largest city’s culture and leisure services since its creation.

As part of that total, Glasgow Life, the arms-length organisation set up by Glasgow City Council in 2007, has also saved £170m in VAT and non-domestic rates relief due to its unique operating model and charity status, which would ultimately have been a cost to the Glasgow taxpayer.

The earnings paying directly for the delivery of culture and leisure services and at a significant saving to the council and the public purse.

Read more: Glasgow fair deal campaign: Governments urged to back funding fight for venues and treasures

Its charitable purpose extended in 2016 to increase vibrancy and promote positive perceptions of Glasgow as a place to work, live, study, plan, visit and invest.

HeraldScotland: The T Rex on Tour exhibition at Kelvin Hall proved to be a hit with visitorsThe T Rex on Tour exhibition at Kelvin Hall proved to be a hit with visitors

And 14 years on from its inception, Glasgow Life was on course for a record year. Just how successful the organisation would be, no one could have imagined.

Glasgow Life’s charitable status has helped it to access in additional resources and funding opportunities and is based on an income generating model.

By 2019/20 the organisation had its best year to date, bringing in £38m and was on target for record numbers for 2020 when the pandemic hit forcing Glasgow Life to close the doors to its venues.

Last March, that income was wiped out overnight through lockdown and despite an agreed funding deal of £100m over the next three to four years from Glasgow City Council, it has only been able to reopen just over 90 of its 171 venues.

Without a new funding deal the future of Glasgow’s rich culture and leisure services are at risk. It is why The Herald is leading A Fair Deal for Glasgow campaign calling for a new funding model and for the Scottish and UK governments to support that. We also believe its cultural venues and collections should receive a fair funding deal.

HeraldScotland: Dr Bridget McConnell, chief executive of Glasgow LifeDr Bridget McConnell, chief executive of Glasgow Life

Dr Bridget McConnell, Chief Executive of Glasgow Life, said: “One of the primary drivers for Glasgow City Council’s creation of Glasgow Life in 2007 was our unique operating model and charitable status.

“Our ability to generate income, attract funding and secure VAT and rates relief has saved the council more than £0.5bn while continuing to provide world-class cultural and sporting services to the people of Glasgow and Scotland. At the same time, we have had a direct role in growing the city’s global reputation as an unrivalled major events host and first-choice tourism destination as well as Scotland’s cultural and economic powerhouse.”

In 2019/20 Glasgow Life recorded 18.2m attendances at facilities, events and festivals delivered by Glasgow Life, which fell away to 1.2m for 2020/21; 6.6m sport attendances, 4.5m libraries attendances including 1m virtual visits and 4.1m museums attendances with the likes of the T Rex on Tour at the Kelvin Hall bringing in more than 47,000 people alone.

The economic impact of events managed, delivered or supported by Glasgow Life during 2019/20 was more than £32.7 million.

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Figures show 1.5m people attended community facilities with 1.1m attendances at arts, music and cultural venues attendances, including Celtic Connections (130,000); Mela (41,000) and the Merchant City Festival (75,000). And 439,524 people went to events.

Glasgow Sport operates the largest civic leisure operation in Scotland and recorded some 6.6 million attendances in 2019/20. In the year before the pandemic, Glasgow Club memberships reached a record high with 48,600 members.

It is through the likes of Glasgow Life’s gym membership income which the venues, galleries and collections which it operates for the city can be supported.

HeraldScotland: The Glasgow Mela in Kelvingrove Park brought in tens of thousands of peopleThe Glasgow Mela in Kelvingrove Park brought in tens of thousands of people

It was during and also emerging from the pandemic that the loss of income has left Glasgow Life at crisis point and why The Herald is calling for both governments to find a new way of funding Glasgow’s culture and leisure.

Dr McConnell added: “Before the pandemic, Glasgow Life had a proven track record of delivering more with less; growing annual attendances to the city’s museums, libraries, concert halls, gyms, sports venues and events by some 30%, to more than 18m, while reducing our core funding from the council by 10% over the same period.

“However, the immediate and sustained impact of Covid on our finances, and our limited ability to earn future income given the current landscape, means we must now look to develop a more sustainable and collaborative approach to funding culture and sport provision in Glasgow; one which safeguards our internationally significant infrastructure and recognises the fundamental role culture and sport can play in supporting not just the city’s health and social recovery, but Scotland’s wider economic regeneration.”

Professor Sir Jim McDonald, Principal of the University of Strathclyde, and Co-Chair of the Glasgow Economic Leadership, said Glasgow’s arts, conference and events infrastructure are vital economic assets for the city and Scotland, and a cornerstone of Glasgow’s success as an economy and tourism destination. In 2019, the Value of the city’s tourism and visitor economy was £774m.

Professor McDonald said: “In 2019, Glasgow welcomed more than 2.5 million overnight visitors – half international and half domestic – which generated £0.75 billion in economic benefit for the city and helped sustain over 32,000 jobs related to Glasgow’s tourism and hospitality industry.

“Glasgow was a UK pioneer in recognising the potential of culture and sport as drivers of economic regeneration and renewal, something that dates back to the opening of the Burrell Collection in the mid-1980s. Since then, the significant investment in infrastructure for Glasgow 1990: Cultural Capital of Europe and continuing through and beyond the 2014 Commonwealth Games, has helped to build a global reputation for Glasgow as an exciting and modern destination; something that every business and institution in this great city has benefitted from.”

“Culture, sport and events have been central to Glasgow’s economic success and will continue to be vital if Glasgow is to fully achieve a post-Covid recovery and drive a strong, vibrant and modern economy.”