30 Aug 2023
By Stuart Patrick, Chief Executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce
On Friday night at about 10pm, I found myself in a conversation that I suspect has become a common feature in Glasgow’s city centre. Should we stay in the centre for a post dinner drink or play it safe and find a bar closer to home? Sure enough, the collective view was to be cautious, a taxi was found, and yet more city centre business was lost. Confidence in Glasgow’s night-time transport system did not appear to be high. If that view is widely shared by Glasgow citizens, then there is cause to worry about the future for Scotland’s biggest night-life hub.
Only two weeks ago, the majority of the existing late night bus service was saved from termination after a deal struck with First Bus and McGill’s. The work done by Glasgow City Council and the regional agency Strathclyde Partnership for Transport in facilitating that deal is to be commended but there is much more yet to be done if the long-term health of Glasgow’s night-time city centre is to be protected.
In its press release, First Bus said there had been a post pandemic shift in behaviour with more than 2,500 people using their Glasgow services between 10.30pm and midnight than previously. I wonder how many of these are people leaving the centre earlier than they would have done before?
In a separate study earlier this year, the City Council reviewed the current provision of taxis and concluded that, while the number of licensed cabs remained as it was before the pandemic, there had been a drop in the availability of drivers. Many cabs that were previously used by two drivers – one in the evening and one during the day - were now used only by one. Many drivers had either retired or had moved to new opportunities. The Council is now offering around 250 more licences although it will take some time to know if that is having an impact. Also it is not clear how much the drop in available taxi drivers has affected the night-time economy but it is not unusual to hear Chamber members say that it has.
Much of the work of the City Centre Task Force, which I co-chair with Councillor Angus Millar, has been directed at the visible damage done to the centre’s retail core and the impact hybrid working has had on the central business district. The launch two weeks ago of the Golden Z report funded by the Scottish Government and commissioned by the City Council explored in impressive detail the scale of that damage and the actions needed to find new roles for the empty shops and offices blighting historically important streets, most notably Sauchiehall Street.
There has been less discussion about the night-time economy. Footfall counters on the main retail streets and Beauclair data on credit card spending both suggest night-time activity is back to where it was before the pandemic. But the feedback from Chamber members in the hospitality sector has been telling a less optimistic picture. For many businesses trade is said to be down.
It is possible these sources of evidence, while apparently contradictory, are actually consistent. The footfall data does not tell us the story outside the six streets currently being monitored nor what the people counted are doing. The Beauclair reports cover only spending with credit cards and not with cash and we know the use of cash dropped substantially during the pandemic. Credit card spending is certainly up on 2019 but the increase may not be enough to compensate for the drop in the use of cash.
Following the furore over the potential loss of the late-night bus service, the City Centre Task Force will now try to clarify just what is happening to Glasgow’s night-life and get to grips with what has happened to the trains, buses, taxis and subway services it needs to thrive.
Travelling home just after the clubs have closed has never been straightforward but there should be no such doubts at 10pm in a city as lively as Glasgow.
This article was first published in The Herald on Wednesday 30 August 2023