NOW that the campaigning is over and the political promises made, it is time to turn towards delivery. It will not be surprising to hear that a Chamber of Commerce is especially interested in how effectively the incoming government proposes to improve economic growth.

Nearly all the party manifestos acknowledged the critical importance of returning to a sustained path of robust economic growth. Whether that growth helps to fund the increasing spending demands of health, education, welfare or defence, limits the need for additional taxation, or simply helps cut the scale of national debt, without it the new government will face some very unattractive decisions.

The new government will not be short of advice. The British Chambers of Commerce published a campaign document offering a partnership to create the best environment to start, grow and invest in a business. This includes an industrial strategy centred on green innovation and a comprehensive plan to nurture the skills that have been chronically scarce.

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Included, too, would be reform of an increasingly outdated system of business rates. Strengthening relationships with our largest market in the EU, supporting SMEs in leveraging AI, and continuing the rollout of the 5G network are also highlighted as essential steps.

The Scottish Chambers of Commerce in turn suggested a 15-point plan along similar lines but with some additional messages. Getting business taxes down. Investing in rail links across the UK and improving air links overseas. Investing in town and city centres. Improving the competitiveness of the UK’s post-study work visas which attract overseas students and help keep our universities and colleges in good health. These would all be helpful issues to address.

The themes are persistent. Don’t overburden business with taxation that undermines investment and give priority to growth issues that individual businesses cannot easily tackle alone such as skills, digital and transport infrastructure, and the strength of our academic research community.

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But if economic growth has been a popular manifesto feature so, too, has the devolution of policy delivery to the regions. Government in both Scotland and the wider UK is widely thought to be over-centralised. It is a peculiarity of the UK economy that our major regional cities have a productivity performance that sits below the national average.

It is now 10 years since the signing of the Glasgow City Region deal and the time is right for considering what comes next. It is with this in mind that Glasgow Chamber of Commerce made our own five asks of all the candidates across our region.

These requests are not the sole factors for creating a more competitive city region, but they are our top priorities for evaluating how effectively the UK Government is investing in our region’s economic growth.
Glasgow city centre has been badly battered both by the pandemic and by changing consumer habits. But it remains the region’s largest concentration of investment and employment. Reversing its current decline is the most regular concern our members express and we would look to the government to create a package of measures to help recovery.

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New tax incentives such as a refreshed Business Premises Renovation Allowance (BPRA) could make a difference. For 10 years, to 2017, BPRA helped convert empty heritage buildings into hotels and could be redeployed to encourage similar investment in housing. A package that also invests in the centre’s rich collection of cultural assets and in the next phase of the Scottish Event Campus – which drives so much demand for hospitality and hotels – would also have a tangible impact.

Next up would be a new innovation deal. The universities of Strathclyde and Glasgow have led the creation of three innovation districts specialising in advanced manufacturing, health and life sciences, and the digital and enabling technologies like space and photonics. We should support these initiatives further with a new deal to sustain the momentum already created by the designation of Glasgow as an Innovation Accelerator Partnership alongside the West Midlands and Greater Manchester.

Glasgow was also awarded an investment zone and there were far more proposals with strong private-sector investment submitted than the current zone budget can fund. The growth opportunity is substantial.

More familiar industries also have excellent potential. One example is maritime and our third ask of the UK Government is to introduce a national maritime investment programme for the River Clyde corridor.

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The work already under way at the Govan and Scotstoun shipyards delivering the UK’s naval shipbuilding requirement can be used as the catalyst for supporting a new cluster of maritime companies with projects such as the proposals the Malin Group has for its site in West Dunbartonshire, or for the reuse of the Inchgreen dry dock in Inverclyde.

The UK Government can also add its weight to the solving of those chronic skills shortages affecting just about every industry in the region.

Create new national skills and jobs programmes to help connect the quarter of our working-age population who are not in jobs to the companies that are crying out for new talent. Additionally, we urge the government to follow the advice of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce and make our post-study work visas as competitive as those in Australia or Canada. These students are essential not only for closing the skills gaps but also for providing the income our universities and colleges need to keep financially vibrant.

Finally, look again at how UK Government funds can support investment in regional transport. The original City Deal offered to fund the first stages of a rail connection to Glasgow Airport. Ten years on, the Clyde Metro has become a Scottish Government strategic transport priority, and connecting the airport and the new Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District with the city and the surrounding region can be the first step towards the full metro system.

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These are just five ways our incoming UK Government could contribute to economic growth through the Glasgow City Region. Chamber members would begin to believe that delivery of the economic growth promise is serious if any of these asks gets very early commitment.

Stuart Patrick is chief executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce