By Councillor David McDonald, Chair, Glasgow Life, and Depute Leader, Glasgow City Council

OPENING the People’s Palace in 1898, former Prime Minister Lord Rosebery described it as a “palace of pleasure and imagination around which the people may place their affections” to be “open to the people for ever and ever”; 120 years on we’re determined to keep that promise. Last week, Glasgow City Council approved funding to ensure this cultural icon remains open while the adjacent Winter Gardens closes for structural repairs. It’s an important step, but we want to do more; we want to protect and enhance all of Glasgow’s people’s palaces – museums and art galleries, cultural and music institutions and sport and leisure facilities – which do so much to enrich our lives.

These people’s palaces belong to, and are cherished by Glaswegians, with emotional bonds built over generations. If there is a “Glasgow Miracle” it is that Glasgow’s nine civic museums attract more than four million visitors annually – 22 per cent from our most deprived communities – with a £12 million budget that includes no national funding. Compare that to the National Museums of Scotland’s £27.7m budget and 2.7m visitors.

Glasgow’s people’s palaces include the Mitchell Library, recent winner of an award for its work with homeless citizens. Staff recognised that people in desperate need were using the facility and through our on-site partnership with Citizens Advice Scotland, were able to provide life-changing support.

Our sports facilities provide world-class leisure facilities for everyone in Glasgow. We produce leading festivals, including Celtic Connections, which includes an award-winning schools programme benefiting 12,000 school children annually.

Our libraries provide more than books. We help those living with cancer through an innovative partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support. Working with Citizens Advice and Jobs and Business Glasgow, we provide information and support for those enduring the worst excesses of Universal Credit. Our libraries are safe, supported community spaces where they are needed most.

This is not enough. Poverty, social isolation and ill-health blight far too many lives in Glasgow. Loneliness – particularly among young people – is storing up problems for the future. Research shows culture and sport can provide effective and relatively low-cost interventions resulting in life-long social, economic and health solutions. Both help people feel better, physically and emotionally and encourage productivity – and in doing so, reduce costs and pressures on future health and social care budgets and improve educational and employment outcomes.

With budgets still tightening and services still stretched, we need to look afresh at how we deliver on shared social outcomes. It can’t just be local authorities who shoulder the cost of valuable non-statutory arts, cultural and sports provision. A binary choice between funding schools or culture will see only one winner. We need new ways to fund culture and sport – understanding that any investment will deliver measurable results which will reduce the burden on our health, education and criminal justice systems. If other public bodies benefit, there must be a new way of delivering – and funding – these goals.

It is a challenge that needs cross-party support. Glasgow is a proven innovator and custodian of our incredible cultural assets and legacy. If we are to stay true to Rosebery’s promise, we need to find new ways of working, of supporting our cultural and sport infrastructure, protecting our heritage and playing our part in creating a more healthy, happy and productive society. All of our people’s palaces are assets for both city and nation but with the right support and a new, shared ambition, they can and will be so much more.