IT seems fair to say that a consensus has been reached that our current economic circumstances are grim.

It was cheering then to hear the Leader of Glasgow City Council, Susan Aitken, set out a more optimistic path at Glasgow’s 24th State of the City Economy Conference last week. Unfortunately, it comes at a time of undeniably unpleasant context.

We look set to lose a decade of living standards through a two-year recession, already considered to be underway. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt described in his Autumn Statement the "difficult decisions" needed to "rebuild the public finances".

Reacting to the Statement, the Director General of British Chambers of Commerce, Shevaun Haviland, said "in the teeth of a recession, this statement will not increase business confidence".

She continued to argue that "almost half of businesses tell us they will find it difficult to pay their energy bills once the Government’s Energy Bill Relief Scheme ends on March 31, 2023". Furthermore, she said the Statement was "light on green innovation, doesn’t address current labour shortages and has nothing on boosting export led-growth".

Then, at a Monday meeting on progressing the Scottish Government’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation, hosted by Deloitte, the Deputy First Minister John Swinney called the conditions for setting the Scottish Government’s 2023/24 budget "astonishingly difficult".

At the Glasgow conference, Councillor Aitken did describe the Autumn Statement as a litany of pain. That the council must close a record funding gap of some £120 million reinforces practical implications at local level. She could justifiably have said a great deal more but chose instead to search out the "nuggets of gold" in the city’s economy, around which a more positive agenda can be built.

She noted the strength in diversity of Glasgow’s modern economy. There has been vigorous growth in the digital technology sector, a robust track record in securing foreign direct investment in financial services and a resurgent maritime industry – boosted only last week with confirmation that a further £4.9 billion will be invested with BAE Systems to build five more Type 26 frigates on the Clyde.

The greatest emphasis however was on innovation, both in the commercialisation of university research and in encouraging new technology business. The city has three innovation districts supporting investment in, among others, space, quantum technology and advanced manufacturing industries.

Glasgow’s designation by the UK Government as one of three Innovation Accelerator Partnerships is bringing £33m into these districts and encouraging at least the same from business. The Bruntwood SciTech plans for a digital technology hub in the Metropolitan Tower is adding a further £60m.

Councillor Aitken also confirmed the city’s commitment to supporting the recovery of Glasgow City Centre, welcoming the aims of Buchanan Galleries owner Landsec and the St Enoch Centre owner Sovereign Centros to invest well over £1bn in repurposing those shopping centres.

She also announced the council’s commitment to an action plan in early 2023, as a response to a Chamber-commissioned report by Ryden and Stantec, explaining what needs to be done to tackle vacant retail units and office stock in the city’s central business district.

But perhaps the biggest task of all is turning the city’s Greenprint for Investment, launched at COP26 and designed to help deliver the city’s net zero targets, into practical reality. Just back from Egypt and COP27, Councillor Aitken announced a new relationship with the insurance industry to help convert net-zero aspirations into practical projects which can attract private investment.

Councillor Aitken attracted some criticism for attending COP27 but she surely made the right decision. To deliver the public transport improvements and the reduction in the energy footprint of our building stock contained in the Greenprint for Investment, we cannot rely solely on governments and local authorities that are strapped for cash.

At COP27, she was building relationships with the private sector and global city leaders that will show how private money can deliver what is needed. That is the optimistic road we must travel.

Stuart Patrick is chief executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce

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