If there has been one message businesses have given at Glasgow’s City Centre Task Force, it was the need to get back to the office.
All the data has shown that the city suffered the second worst drop in weekday footfall only exceeded by London itself. Now that the working from home guidance has been lifted after 20 months in place, at varying levels of enforcement, it is not only city centre businesses that will see how quickly weekday footfall will recover but so too will the companies operating our public transport network.
The move has been tempered however with the Scottish Government’s hybrid working guidance. Chamber members would rather the government stopped interfering in the decisions businesses must make to manage their staff. Hybrid working is likely to be widely introduced by the city’s businesses – at least in the early stages of recovery – and the government almost certainly did not need to reinforce their message with formal guidance.
It matters too that students are welcomed back to campus and our colleges and universities are eagerly awaiting guidance to allow that to happen. The damage done to their learning experience and mental health is even more important but there is no question their return would also help city centre business recovery.
Nevertheless, we can now begin to see in practice what the changes in commuting behaviours are going to be.
One announcement from the Scottish Government should be warmly welcomed. Cabinet Secretary Michael Matheson gave the Glasgow Metro top billing as he revealed the projects to be supported over the next twenty years in the latest Scottish Transport Projects Review.
This is a clear achievement for City Council Leader Susan Aitken whose 2019 Connectivity Commission report was specifically referenced by the Cabinet Secretary. She has worked persistently since the Commission report launch to persuade the Scottish Government of the Metro’s merits. With both national and local levels of government now endorsing a Glasgow Metro system, we have the opportunity to accelerate investment in Glasgow’s regional public transport network. Without this investment it is extremely hard to see how the Scottish Government’s goal to cut car use by 20% by 2030 could ever be achieved without seriously antagonizing both current and aspiring car owners.
It should come as no surprise that Glasgow Chamber of Commerce vigorously supports the Scottish Government’s decision. We have long argued for a rail connection between Glasgow Airport and the city centre, while the Connectivity Commission report concluded that there should be a rail link between Paisley Gilmour Street station and Glasgow Airport using the currently identified City Deal funding by 2025. The report also concluded this should be the first leg of the Glasgow Metro extension, serving what it described as the South Clyde Growth Corridor connecting the Airport, the emerging Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District, Renfrew, the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital and the city centre. The Chamber’s governing Council debated and accepted in full the Connectivity Commission report. In making its decision, the Chamber also explicitly supported recommendations to improve the region’s bus system, in addition to the roll out of the city centre Avenues programme, an investment in the attractiveness of the centre for pedestrians and cyclists. It also supported the creation of a City Region Development Agency to help attract private sector funding to cover the investment costs involved in creating the comprehensive, modern rapid transit system the Glasgow Metro should become. Now the debate on national priorities is coming to a close, the focus must shift to the practical arrangements that will get the government’s recommendations delivered as quickly as possible.
Stuart Patrick is chief executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce