31 Jan 2024
By Stuart Patrick, Chief Executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce
Innovation one of the few sectors of Glasgow’s economy with a positive long-term outlook
Last week at a Chamber Glasgow Talks event, Adrian Gillespie, the Chief Executive of Scottish Enterprise, succinctly summarised the direction his organisation will now take over the next 10 years. For Glasgow, there is much to be welcomed in the three missions he described:
Glasgow being between a third to 40% of the Scottish economy naturally has a role to play in all three missions but it was the scaling up of innovation that Adrian picked out as the one where Glasgow has notable strengths. The powerful work the universities of Strathclyde and Glasgow are doing to build three innovation districts featured heavily in his presentation and last year’s November launch of the Glasgow Regional Innovation Action Plan shows that several partners are lining up to make the most of that work.
Both Scottish Enterprise and Innovate UK put their names to the Action Plan alongside the Glasgow City Region and with the UK Government’s Innovation Accelerator Partnership and the joint designation by the UK Government and Scottish Government of a Glasgow Investment Zone, there is fresh resource being lined up to help deliver the plan.
Perhaps that is why the focus on the region’s innovation economy is both optimistic and unusual. There is new public money being invested when in so many other spheres budgets are going in the other direction.
The Scottish Budget made it perfectly clear that there will be difficult choices being made in the year ahead and projections from the Scottish Fiscal Commission suggests that will be the case for some time to come. The headlines in December were mostly about increasing taxes but the details of specific budget cuts have been filtering out ever since.
Education cuts will impact green transition
So far, we have heard about the challenges for Scottish students accessing their local universities given cuts in the money being made available to fund free university education. There is absolutely no doubt, though, that Scotland’s inward investment success depends on the supply of home-grown graduate talent since so many of the international students that universities are having to turn to instead will go back to their home countries once they graduate.
We have yet to hear the full details - and the practical consequences – for college funding but we do know that the Flexible Workforce Development Fund has been a victim. That will reduce the resources available for delivering upskilling and reskilling work among small and medium sized companies, something which has up ‘till now been considered an important element of the green energy transition. Cuts to core college budgets can only lead to reductions in opportunities for some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country.
Glasgow’s transport infrastructure impacted by budget cuts
There have also been some drastic cuts in capital budgets. Clyde Gateway has lost all of the £5m capital allocation the Scottish Government was making to the long-term regeneration of Glasgow’s East End. Strathclyde Partnership for Transport has also lost entirely capital contributions for the conversion of the region’s bus fleet to electric vehicles and for the ongoing modernisation of the subway. We are also unclear just what is happening to the £500m that had been allocated by the Scottish Government to improving bus transport through the Bus Partnership Fund.
It is hard to disagree with Lord Willie Haughey and Sir Tom Hunter who both expressed bemusement at Government policy that makes it harder to maintain momentum behind the public transport investment that Glasgow so desperately needs.
Adrian Gillespie was far too diplomatic to comment on the budget position his own organisation will face. He will deliver as much as he can with the resources he gets.
But as each decision emerges it becomes ever clearer that we need a much more vigorous debate about funding priorities. Are we sacrificing long term success for shorter term initiatives?