On Friday 25th November, Glasgow City Council hosted its annual State of the City Economy Conference at the Radisson Hotel. SANE was due to attend but decided along with others to boycott the event because of the involvement of arms companies, BAE Systems and defence technology firm Leidos. Both are benefiting from the war in Israel and we are of the view that by giving both companies a public stage, the Council is endorsing their activities and signalling that the arms industry forms an important part of the local economy.
One way of assessing the significance of the green light given to arms companies and to the aspirations of the rest of the programme is to consider Doughnut Economics, something the Council purports to support. The aim of Doughnut economics is to move away from the focus on endless growth towards an approach to human prosperity that both meets the needs of people so that no-one falls short and which protects the planet. We have previously highlighted the relationship between Glasgow and the arms industry, but here we argue that their presence and their normalisation goes against the principles of Doughnut Economics because their products are harmful to both people and the planet.
The Council does however argue that it has the needs of both people and the planet in mind. Indeed, we know we know, because it issued a press release in advance of the conference, that the leader of the Council, Susan Aitken, used the opportunity to announce a ‘huge green investment plan’ as part of its drive towards net zero. Although the details are not yet publicly available, the limited information suggests that the focus is once again largely on using public money to provide incentives for private industry to invest in developments which may be of superficial value to the public, but which are primarily aimed at increasing their profits. The press release places considerable emphasis on improving public transport, but by placing access to Glasgow Airport as central to this and by inviting a speaker from AGS Airports, we once again have to question the seriousness of the commitment to a truly green economy. Flying is one of the aspects of human behaviour that has to be seriously curtailed if we are to live within planetary limits.
The last aspect of the conference that we want to draw attention to is the partnership between local authority and the finance sector. A speaker from Legal and General Capital is an indication of another development which masquerades as being of benefit to the city. As a major shareholder in Bruntwood SciTech (apparently the UK’s leading science and tech specialist property provider, it is helping to fund the transformation of the Met Tower, originally the City of Glasgow College building. We quote from their press release here because it does and excellent job of way that business is placing its imprint on the city in a way that is completely lacking in debate and transparency:
“Bruntwood SciTech’s expansion into Scotland signals its commitment to developing specialist ecosystems to support the growth of the UK science and tech sector, and the creation of over 40,000 high value jobs over the next 10 years. As the Met Tower project develops, Bruntwood SciTech will be looking to recruit a locally based team in Glasgow.
Bruntwood SciTech’s commitment to Glasgow mirrors that of its shareholder Legal & General who has also identified the city as a key opportunity to invest and support Levelling Up. It has already forward funded 324 build to rent apartments within Glasgow’s new Buchanan Wharf waterside regeneration area and a new 187,000 sq ft hub for the UK civil service at Atlantic Square, Argyll St.
OakNorth Bank has supported Bruntwood SciTech with the acquisition of Met Tower through the provision of an £8.6m acquisition loan and an agreement to provide up to £27m of additional funding to support the subsequent redevelopment of the building. Ryden, Brodies and Addleshaw Goddard advised Bruntwood SciTech and Pinsents advised OakNorth on the transaction. Savills and DLA represented Osborne+Co.”
Whilst retrofitting the Met Tower is surely better than its demolition and a new build, the role of an Innovation District as part of an economy that helps to address Glasgow’s endemic problems of health and wealth inequality is extremely limited. To us, it appears to be a form of trickle down economics where the benefits to a small group of individuals and corporations is expected to trickle down to everyone else, an approach which historically has failed to address society’s problems. Further, the pouring of yet more concrete into the banks of the Clyde will neither solve the city’s housing problems nor address the need for mitigation against the impacts of the climate crisis as the threat of river flooding grows.
Some might (and do) argue that anything that brings jobs and wealth to Glasgow must be a good thing. In this month’s short blog, we have however chosen to shine a light on the implications of the way the Glasgow economy is being developed and as usual, we invite your comments. In future blogs we will be exploring what some of the alternatives might be and what a different approach to the local economy might look like.