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Running a business in Glasgow

At a glance

  • Shopping facilities second to London, according to analysts Experian
  • Transport infrastructure is high quality
  • Investment has reached record levels, with many dilapidated areas being regenerated
  • Financial services, shared services and contact centres are the main industries
  • A multitude of universities is one factor behind the highly skilled populace
Glasgow

Few places can be as different from their reputation as Glasgow. To some, the city still conjures up images of some of the worst slums in Europe.

But Glasgow is far more than an urban jungle. Architecturally, it is one of the UK's most beautiful cities, partly the result of the efforts of one its most famous sons, Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

It has art galleries, theatres, bars and clubs to rival anywhere in Europe - and from 2009 will have one more: the £74m Riverside Museum, designed by world famous architect Zaha Hadid.

Its shopping facilities - according to analysts Experian - are second only to London's West End in both quality and quantity. And, thanks to the Scottish tradition of the middle classes living in flats, Glasgow's own west end offers beautiful, spacious accommodation in abundance.

If city living doesn't suit, then the outskirts of the glorious Highlands and Islands are only a short drive away.

If city living doesn't suit, then the outskirts of the glorious Highlands and Islands are only a short drive away

The city's rising confidence is perhaps reflected best in the city's house prices. At the moment, house prices are obviously falling across the UK, with the credit saueeze not even sparing London homeowners. But before the slowdown, the value of houses in Glasgow had been rising at a faster rate than anywhere, bar central London.

Record investment

Its transport infrastructure, too, is impressive. The M74, which becomes the M6 at Carlisle, offers quick access to England, while Edinburgh is less than an hour away on the M8.

The fastest trains to London clock in at just under four and a half hours, and Glasgow airport provides connections with major North American cities, as well as the usual European capitals.

Meanwhile, all along the Clyde regeneration projects are turning around those parts of the city that originally gave it its unsavoury reputation. In fact, there is around £2bn of investment in the city's waterfront alone.

But the city is more than just physically impressive. It has enjoyed record investment and employment growth over recent years, with £4.2bn coming into the city in 2006. The number of jobs in Glasgow has risen by almost a quarter in just a decade.

While there is still manufacturing along the Clyde, financial services, shared services and contact centres have replaced shipbuilding as the main industries in the West of Scotland.

The financial services sector now employs one in 20 of the Scottish population, and in Glasgow, in particular, this is underpinned by a cluster of dedicated technology operations for this sector, which benefits from a pool of high-quality computer science and software engineering graduates produced by the city's four universities.

Scotland's second city boasts impressive human resources: there are four business schools and 19 colleges there, and 1.1 million people living within a 30-minute commute of the city centre.

The city council lists the availability of skilled labour among its biggest strengths, as well as its universities, the quality of its new office accommodation and the high standard of its public transport system.

"Glasgow offers wide-ranging support to inward investors and expanding companies," says a spokesman for the city council. "There is a high level of political support from the council for the development and expansion of the city's contact centre and shared services industries."

The list of companies now present in the city may surprise the unitiated: ACE, Barclays, BNP Paribas, Direct Lane, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley.

Innovative

Part of the reason for this influx of international corporations is the city's successful attempts to provide the sort of commercial premises that such firms demand.

"We understand that an efficient planning process is key to attracting world-class companies to the city," says the spokesman, "and now have a dedicated planning team aiming to streamline the process around major developments.

"Glasgow has an international reputation as an innovative city that is open for business."

 

The international financial services district (IFSD) is perhaps the best example of Glasgow's newly proactive approach to commerce. This one square kilometre site is designed to create a cutting-edge environment for UK and overseas firms in the financial industries and related sectors.

So far, £750m has been invested by both public and private sectors and the IFSD will deliver up to two million square feet of new office space by 2011 - as well as up to 20,000 new jobs. A state-of-the-art broadband network is also being installed at a cost of £50m.

The IFSD is not a monotone office development; it is part of a wider project which will see the regeneration of Broomielaw and the western reaches of the city centre, with leisure and retail space created alongside new apartment schemes of every variety.

Further along the Clyde, the £1.2bn Glasgow Harbour scheme will create an entirely new community alongside the river, featuring homes, shops, bars, restaurants and retail facilities. Around 40% of the site will be green space, with several miles of the waterfront opened up for public access.

Meanwhile, in the more deprived East End, the £1.6bn Clyde Gateway aims to provide over four million square feet of employment space, create 21,000 jobs and restore 350 acres of derelict and contaminated land.

More importantly for business, the city also possesses Scotland's leading conference and entertainment centre. It looks set to cement this position with the creation of a 12,500-seater, £62m arena and public square designed by Sir Norman Foster.

Despite the city's successes, labour costs remain low: the average wage is £469.60 per week, less than comparable centres such as Birmingham, Manchester or Leeds. It also has more people of working age in employment than those cities.

So, in summary, Glasgow already has evident attractions for business, and a council that is determined to build on those attractions. Sadly, the one thing it can't change is the weather: although even that is not as bad as the stereotype might suggest.

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