13 Nov 2020
Glasgow needs to learn from the legacy of past economic downturns to emerge more strongly from the challenges of the current pandemic, the Chamber's first virtual Covid-19 world conference heard in November.
"We know that Covid is fundamentally reshaping our economy, and this process will continue, even with the very encouraging news about the efficacy of the first of the vaccines,’’ said Prof Sir Anton Muscatelli.
Prof Muscatelli, Principal and Vice Chancellor, University of Glasgow, was among the keynote speakers for the first Glasgow in the Covid-19 world virtual conference, with over 260 registered participants. The event was organised by Glasgow Chamber of Commerce in partnership with Royal Bank of Scotland, and welcomed by Malcolm Buchanan, Chairman of Royal Bank of Scotland - Scotland board, and Stuart Patrick, the Chamber's Chief Executive.
Sir Anton said it was apparent how unequal the crisis has been from a health, economic and social perspective. In business term, the tourism, hospitality and events sectors in Scotland have been particularly badly hit. Glasgow is the area with the highest number of furloughed employees across Scotland.
On education and skills, young people and women with young children were impacted heavily, with “learning loss” of up to four months a disruptive feature for pupils in the most deprived areas.
“This is a serious long-term challenge. We can’t afford a lost generation due to the pandemic and we have to act now to devise an approach which identifies the support for specific groups of young people who have fallen behind,’’ he said.
Moving more rapidly to build Scotland's digital skills bases, with its universities well-placed to take advantage, embracing a green jobs strategy and leveraging international connections and connectivity must be part of the future.
Steven Blackman, Royal Bank of Scotland's economist and the Director of Strategic Research, spoke about the ‘Superstars Economy’ looking at how the global music industry and mass communication, evolving from the gramophone, radio and television, increased audiences and revenues, but gave a smaller number of people ‘star’ status and a disproportionate share of the wealth.
When this is expanded across other industries, it divides people into winners or losers. This was being repeated with the digital revolution where trends have been accelerated by Covid-19. The way of combatting this inequality was through resetting relationships with customers, repurposing places on a more local level, reassessing values and building resilience, with the example of kids' art clubs in conjunction with museums.
Nicola Taylor, Chief Executive, Chardon Hotels, owners of La Bonne Auberge, and six Scottish hotels, under franchise, spoke about the dire financial difficulties of the hospitality sector. She said that even before Covid, the hotel industry in Glasgow was under pressure with an over-supply of hotel bedrooms and, at the start of the pandemic, staff were too scared to come to work, never mind deal with the public. However, she said: “The market does come back but we have a very, very bumpy ride at the moment.’’
Also discussing the tourism and travel industry, Derek Provan, boss of AGS Airports, warned that future connectivity to Scotland will be undermined amid the wave of consolidation he expects to take place across the industry as a result of the fallout from coronavirus, unless operations are restarted as a matter urgency.
While the aviation industry has access to the tests, kits and modelling needed to get air corridors open again, he noted: “What we have is dithering from the government that is stopping us from opening up again.”
Keith Anderson, Chief Executive of ScottishPower, which supply over five millions retail customers with electricity and gas, ordered over 3,500 people to work from home, with 2,500 at their normal place of work. “We’ve had to adapt our businesses very quickly’’ to keep the lights on in Scotland. “During the pandemic, we completed the development of our biggest ever offshore wind farm off the south-east coast of England’’ and other investments in the grid system have continued. He said the way out of this crisis must be through investment and growth.
View a video of the event below: