UK: Glasgow - The Next 50 Years

Last Updated: 14 February 2012
Article by Murray Shaw

Historically Glasgow has been a significant centre of commerce and industry within the United Kingdom but trading throughout much of the western world.  For the latter part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century it was the "second city of the empire".  In 1905 elections were run in Cleveland where a key part of the platform of the successful party was to set up a tram system similar to that operating in Glasgow and to replicate a system of government not dissimilar to that then operating in Glasgow.  The man who was responsible for operating Glasgow Trams (James Dalrymple) was even sent across to the States (to Chicago) to advise on what should be done there.  There might be more issues in exporting the experience of Edinburgh Trams!

More than a century later things are and have been very different in relation to Glasgow.  In the 60's and 70's Glasgow had severe economic and social problems and in many ways the city was effectively written off.  There are also no longer trams in Glasgow.  Despite still having significant social problems and despite having been written off 50 years ago, the last few years have however seen Glasgow successfully seek to reinvent itself starting with the wonderful marketing slogan that "Glasgow's Miles Better" and festivals such as the Garden Festival, being European City of Culture and the UK City of Architecture and Design.  The city will shortly host the 2014 Commonwealth Games.  Glasgow now markets itself as "Scotland with Style".

While much has been done there is still much yet to be done and the City Council who over the past 40 to 50 years have proved themselves to be pragmatic managers of the city are now seeking to consult on a vision for the next 50 years. 

One of the growth areas in Scotland following upon the devolution settlement (now under review) is the "consultation industry".  The Scottish Government regularly consults on a range of issues and many consider there is a degree of "consultation fatigue" in Scotland.  However the consultation which the Council are currently undertaking in Glasgow is one of considerable significance to the city and how the next 50 years will see the city develop.

As the document recognises while Glasgow may need to change equally the world may change (and will change) and Glasgow much be flexible to respond to the changes which occur.  Glasgow cannot only be reactive it needs to be proactive to address issues which will have to be addressed come what may.

The consultation however does not shy away from the problems that Glasgow still faces.  For example it notes that 30% of Glasgow's working age population is economically inactive.  There is a high degree of homelessness.  Health issues are significant with the life expectancy in parts of Glasgow being 15 years less than that in other more affluent parts of the town.  The city's rate of drug deaths is the highest in Scotland and more than double the national average.

There are however a range of issues which Glasgow needs to address including energy requirements and being carbon neutral, better public transport, better relationships between the public and private sector and a need to be more innovative than it has been in the past. 

In setting out a vision the consultation document addresses a number of key topics including:-

  1. What will make Glasgow happy and healthy?
  2. How will Glaswegians earn a living?
  3. What should be done about climate change?
  4. How will education be delivered?
  5. What will the city centre be like?
  6. Can more be made of the River Clyde?
  7. What should be done about public transport?

These are all important issues but equally important will be the delivery of answers once these issues have been consulted upon.

Possibly in addressing the "how" question the consultation document is most interesting.  It recognises that leadership from the Council will be required but as importantly "genuine teamwork between the citizens of Glasgow and organisations across the public, voluntary and private sectors.  The Council will lead by example, but success will only come with common cause". 

The consultation document recognises that what is being proposed is, as the document puts it, "a huge shift in governance going far beyond the formal partnership arrangements that we have witnessed in recent years.  It will need greater planned teamwork between national and city government. It will need greater teamwork and stronger leadership at the city-region level, extending beyond Glasgow's current administrative boundaries to encompass its functional boundaries perhaps with an elected mayor or equivalent". 

The reference to "functional boundaries" is interesting.  A number of neighbouring local authorities are concerned that Glasgow has aspirations to grow.  Glasgow for its part is concerned that many of those who use the city and work in it live outside its fairly narrow boundaries.  A debate to come?

It sounds as if the document is contemplating a step changed in the way the city is governed which may result in Glasgow coming up with a style of leadership and governance fit for the 21st century which may be a model for other places (just as Glasgow appears to have been to some back at the start of the 20th century).

The consultation document concludes that the finalised city vision will be approved by the Council who at the same time will approve a first stage action plan.  That action plan will encompass tasks, activities and obligations for it would appear a number of bodies.  The Council has already indicated a willingness to work with others to advance the city.  However what is being proposed in this document goes beyond that. 

This document – "A 50 Year Vision for the Future – The Future of Glasgow 2011-2061" is an important document.  It is not only important however for Glasgow, it is important for Scotland given the important role that Glasgow fulfils within the economy of Scotland.  It may also be important beyond the boundaries of Scotland if it sets out a new way of working which allow cities (all cities) to address the significant challenges they have. 

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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