A brochure being circulated by the city council and Strathclyde European Partnerships waxes lyrical about “a city of creativity, vibrancy, friendliness and humour borne out of mixed fortunes and indomitable spirit”. This is more than mere PR spin: it is a reality that is easily impressed upon any visitor to Glasgow. The city pulses with an energy and edginess that is very unlike elegant but staid Edinburgh, 40 miles to the east.

Calling card

‘Post-industrial’ isn’t quite the right term to describe Glasgow, says Charles Gordon, Labour leader of Glasgow’s city council, because that implies there is no longer any room in the job market for the manual labourers who were shaken out by the decline of the old industries. He would rather Glasgow become a ‘post-welfare’ city.

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Between 1950 and 2001, overall employment in Glasgow dropped from 559,000 to 382,000; 90% of the jobs lost were in manufacturing. The low point came in 1996 when the city had only 358,000 jobs. Glasgow still has tens of thousands of people who are not economically active, meaning they are unemployed but not seeking work. Glasgow’s economic activity rate is 10% below the Scottish average, although 10 years ago it was 20% below, so there has been some improvement. “We are piloting projects to work with that client group and give them the confidence to move back into the job market because we need them,” says Mr Gordon.

The demographics of the city are not particularly encouraging. However, the population decline does seem to have been arrested for the moment. In fact, in the next spatial plan, officials are accounting for the growth of the city for the first time in a couple of generations. To get the numbers up, the council is encouraging house building and inviting asylum seekers and refugees to settle in Glasgow.

They will find a city that has been reborn. The unemployment rate has reduced substantially in the past five years (42,500 new jobs were created between 1998 and 2001 and the number of Glaswegians in gainful employment rose from 212,000 to 234,000 from spring 1998 to spring 2002). There was, however, a dip from 2001 to 2002, with a loss of 4800 jobs, in line with the Scottish average that year and global economic developments.

Investment injection

Spurred by rapid development of service support infrastructure, an influx of office-based investment in the 1990s – by companies in the finance, utilities and telecoms industries – helped offset some of the losses of manufacturing jobs. A good labour supply, adequate transport links and viable office space attracted investment in call centres from such companies as BT, Royal Bank of Scotland, esure, JPMorgan, Barclay Stockbrokers, Response Handling and Lloyds TSB. There are now no less than 115 customer contact centres in Glasgow, providing 17,000 jobs.

From 1998 to 2001 service-sector jobs increased from 290,000 to 336,300; the key drivers were banking, finance, insurance and business services. To foster more growth in this space, the city made a conscious decision a few years back to develop a financial services district that would stretch from the southern boundary of the current central business district at Argyll Street right down to the banks of the River Clyde. “There has been quite a bit of speculative investment in new office buildings there, and that has been encouraging,” Mr Gordon says. “We are expecting announcements of big inward investments during the course of the year.”

He has taken the show on the road, leading delegations to, for example, the London Stock Exchange to promote the project. The city council is joining up with Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Financial Enterprise in marketing the International Financial Services District (IFSD), as it is known.

Three years into the 10-year programme only about 3500 jobs have been created out of a targeted 20,000. “But 2004 was a bit flat as a year,” says Mr Gordon. “I think 2005 will be a good year for us.”

Old faithful

Though it has diversified into these new industries, Glasgow has not entirely turned its back on manufacturing and other older industries. It remains a major UK centre for engineering, publishing, and food and drink industries. After the decline of the 1970s, 1980s and early to mid-1990s, the number of manufacturing jobs held steady in 2002 at 31,500.

“I don’t have any illusions about the limitations of what the public sector can do. It’s all about creating a climate where private investors can have confidence,” Mr Gordon stresses. “The whole idea is not to give people a book of rules but help them find a way to create jobs, build houses, or whatever. It’s about facilitating development rather than seeing yourself purely as a regulator. And I think businesses find that user friendly.”

Where government can play a helpful role, he says, is in careful yet innovative city planning. In this respect, Glasgow has been extremely proactive and, by most measures, successful. A number of years ago, at Mr Gordon’s insistence the town planning department was merged with the economic development department and the property department to create a department of development and regeneration services. In August 2003, the council approved a new city plan, which sits within the context of the Glasgow and Clyde Valley Structure Plan prepared by the eight local authorities within the Glasgow region.

The structure plan lays out a broad framework for the development of housing, industry, commerce and environmental improvement. The city plan deals with more detailed planning and development issues to do with people, jobs, infrastructure and environment. The adoption of the city plan consolidated 43 local plans of varying ages into one single up-to-date plan covering the entire city.

Such new-found co-ordination and consolidation can only help as Glasgow continues its long, slow but ultimately rewarding climb back from the depths of industrial decay.