Stuart Patrick: City center needs the green light on August 9th

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There are several companies in my neighborhood that I am relieved to have got through the pandemic.

I count two restaurants, a cafe and a particularly good independent bookstore that help shape the character of the area, and I sincerely hope that by reaching a changed Level 0 on Monday, they have weathered the worst. I can’t be so sure about Glasgow city center just yet.

The First Minister is determined to stress that the crisis is not over and that there is no day of freedom for Scotland. Independent companies that serve our inner city are well aware of this.

In particular, they have to wait for the green light to allow them to return to the office. According to the latest cellular data released by the Center for Cities, only 10 percent of weekday commutes had returned by the end of June.

Last week I heard a coffee shop with outlets in Helensburgh and in the city center: “Every day it’s like Christmas in the Helensburgh shop and out of town.”

Larger cities tended to suffer the most economic damage, but the UK’s three largest cities in London, Manchester and Birmingham were better at 17%. 16% and 20% of the recovered commute, respectively.

The very low resident population in Glasgow city center could be a reason for the shortage in Glasgow, as well as the tougher embassies from the Scottish government supporting homeworking. However, Edinburgh has almost a fifth of its office workers back in the center.

Does it matter if Glasgow city center struggles when the general recovery is strong? Isn’t it a good thing that smaller towns and suburbs get off well, since the story of the past decade has been the withering up of the local highways? I am nervous to hear such questions to say the least.

It has been more than 35 years since a McKinsey report for the Scottish Development Agency recommended rebuilding the city’s troubled economy with a city center that was an architectural gem, what it took to be a tourist destination, and the base for one growing service sector.

A remarkably forward-looking insight drew the city to the importance of the demand for software services. Look behind the doors of several prominent companies in the city’s International Financial Services District (IFSD) and you will find the software technology hubs McKinsey envisioned.

Glasgow city center has been the engine of job growth for the wider region for more than 20 years. Even in a new world of hybrid working, the center will remain the basis for these growing companies.

Their offices may be remodeled, but I haven’t heard any suggestion of them being closed or relocated. Perhaps their employees come to the office three days a week instead of five, but youth training, team building and complex innovations are all reasons why offices are kept.

And since we all want to invest more in public transport, how much more difficult will it be when our existing systems are built around our inner city and our center is in decline?

Just as important to me is the survival of the independent companies that rely on inner-city traffic. We don’t have enough entrepreneurs in Scotland to lose any of the ones we already have.

I’ve listened to even the most creative and determined who struggle to see how they overcome all that has been placed upon them over the past 16 months.

I urge the Scottish Government to give the green light for the return to office on August 9th.

Stuart Patrick is Executive Director of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce


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