Ken Gibb's 'Brick by Brick'

Housing, academia, the economy, culture and public policy

Category: Glasgow

Exploring the Scottish Economy

My last official act with Policy Scotland is to participate today in a launch for our edited book ‘The Scottish Economy: A Living Book’. I edited this new overview with Duncan Maclennan, Des McNulty and Michael Comerford. We are immensely grateful to all of those who contributed to the book’s 19 substantial chapters. We think it is a genuinely useful and serious contribution to an empirical understanding of both the state of key sectors and the economic challenges the country faces.

Of course, Scotland is a place for different kinds of economic debates – those that mirror wider conceptual and empirical debates elsewhere about macroeconomic policy, government intervention, national strategies and what works. But is also, rightly or wrongly, where so much of the constitutional debate about Scotland turns. Just in the last week, both aspects of these debates have surfaced as a result of the Scottish Government’s publication of the new GERS data on Scotland’s public finances and in the anticipated economic strategy content of the new Programme for Government to be launched next week.

This book has a unique history. Sir Alec Cairncross established the Department of Social and Economic Research at the University of Glasgow after the 2nd world war as an empirical research–intensive group of social scientists. In the mid 1950s, he edited a book entitled ‘The Scottish Economy’, featuring an empirical account of all the major Scottish sectors, which involved wrestling with often quite primitive data, but as was characteristic of the diagnostic investigative approach, often featuring remarkable forensic analysis of what was available. Of course, post war Scotland is in some respects now barely recognizable but many root issues and characteristics like inequality, spatial variation, the problems confronting Glasgow and the debates over strategy, productivity and growth still to the fore.

The Department of Social and Economic Research begat the Department of Urban Studies in the 1990s and now Urban Studies is a successful subject area in the School of Social and Political Sciences. The ESRC Centre for Housing Research, led by Duncan Maclennan, was located within S&ER, where, for a couple of years, Sir Alec’s daughter, Liz, was a researcher with us. We thought that as a commemoration of that excellent path breaking empirical study, we should seek to re-create its essence 60 years on. Although the subject material has changed (we don’t, for instance, have a chapter on the church in Scotland), we have, we hope, produced a significant substantial volume that should add value for academics, students, political and commentariat classes across many domains in Scotland. Retaining the link to the history of the book, we were delighted that Frances Cairncross could offer a foreword and Laurie Hunter, long term head of the department of Social and Economic Research, could add an afterword, too.

The book has a series of five chapters at the beginning of the book that are broad-based about the history of the Scottish economy since the 1950s, including one on the development of economic policy, alongside chapters on fiscal matters, the contemporary landscape and the Scottish population. We then move on to a series of sector or more topic-specific chapters concerned with issues as diverse as: oil and gas, infrastructure, rural Scotland, education, health, housing, the environment and renewables, the financial sector, urban Scotland, women in the labour force, local government finance, inequality and poverty, and government’s place in economic strategy. Chapters combine careful analysis of descriptive material with reflection on current and future challenges.

The main strength of the book is that we have assembled many of the key writers academic and non-academic who can write with authority on these matters (and they have done so). Second, a distinctive feature is the ‘living book’ element, by which we mean the updatable accompanying website which visualises much of the data contained in these chapters. The empirical focus is a drect legacy of the original Cairncross volume and we hope readers will find it useful. We also intend to use the website to provide periodic additional content, perhaps through blogs and author/editor notes.

In this way, and short of further editions (which we hope there will be an appetite for in time), we hope to overcome the classic problems such volumes face (subsequent events overtake the book). Our main such example, which only features in the introduction, is Brexit. Several of our authors (and indeed one editor) are thoroughly versed in the economic debates around leaving the European Union but our timescales precluded adding a further chapter late in the day. I hope the website will be able to host a series of contributions on that pivotal topic.

It is a nice way to sign off from Policy Scotland and I would like to thank my editorial colleagues, all the 33 contributors, the publisher and Policy Scotland staff and interns and for doing such a great job throughout the project. I wish the new director Chris Chapman well and Policy Scotland continued success. The new housing evidence centre, CacHE, will be working directly with Policy Scotland and we will have many continuing overlapping strands.








Starting Again

This week, I have begun a new job. I am still at the University but the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE) opens its doors for business. We are still recruiting and setting up systems, policies and procedures but it is finally underway.

CaCHE has been the best part of two years in the making and reflects a long gestation period as ESRC wrestled with how to deliver on its decision to prioritise housing alongside the increased focus on evidence and what works in policy terms more broadly. Eventually, the decision was taken to go for a broad-based multidisciplinary approach, one that should encompass a consortium of universities and non HEI partners. It was also clear (to us) that it needed to encompass the whole housing system and all that features within it, and that the new centre should be genuinely-UK wide and embrace the devolved UK and the different types of markets and housing contexts found across the UK.

Our consortium building process was premised on early sign–up of partners, seeking to do justice to the scope of what we thought would emerge. We embraced the housing system approach and also a pluralist basis by which to assess and review evidence about housing. Importantly, we also decided to fully commit to a co-produced mode of priority-setting. We will set our evidencing and research priorities according to what representative knowledge exchange groups up and down the country tell us are the key priorities.  More so than ever I am convinced this is the right way to go, not just to get buy-in from the wider housing policy and practice world but because it confers legitimacy and a sense of genuine collaboration. It also shapes the way we have to write, report and communicate.

Last May, the ESRC and other funding partners, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the AHRC, published their call specification incorporating six research themes (housing and the economy; understanding the housing market; choice and aspirations; housing and health education, employment, etc.; place, design and neighbourhoods; and, multi-level governance). Each theme had a lengthy shopping list of possible research projects. We decided to ‘announce’ a dozen exemplar/learning projects either evidence reviews or secondary data analyses which would help us refine our approach to evidence reviews, alongside up to ten PhDs co-funded by the partner Universities. Beyond that our collaborative knowledge exchange model would generate our priorities.

We constructed a large team based around contributions from the universities of Glasgow, Sheffield, Reading, Heriot-Watt, Cardiff, Sheffield Hallam, Ulster, Bristol and St Andrews, plus non-HEIs: the Chartered Institute of Housing, the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research also made a major input into our bid. Subsequently, the University of Adelaide has also come on board. More than 200 individual collaborators supported out bid with an interest in working with us, as did more than 20 other partners. The submission date was in October, interviews in January 2017 and we were publically announced as the successful consortium in April and due to start at the beginning of August 2017.

And it is a large team – 30 co-investigators spread across 6 themes and 5 sub-national geographies, plus a data navigator hub, secondment programmes, early career researchers, as well  as research, knowledge exchange and administrative staff. The centre is a distributed across the UK but administered form Glasgow. Even our leadership team is spread far and wide based in Glasgow, Sheffield, London and Cardiff. As many have said, directing and leading this new initiative will be challenging but I am sure also very rewarding. I am very fortunate to have been able to work closely with Craig Watkins from the very beginning of this project and we are doubly fortunate to have so many other excellent positive colleagues to work with and to that end I would include the international advisory board we have assembled, chaired by Lord Kerslake. As is often the way with new collaborative ventures, it is great to work with new people and to see them and our practices in a different and new light.

I decided that the new centre should be a break with the past in a different way too. We are locating off the Gilmorehill campus and shifting eastward to the social sciences research hub in the east end of Glasgow at the Olympia building in Bridgeton. We will share our space with the Glasgow Centre for Population Health and other Glasgow University social scientists. I think this will bring both focus to our work and allow us to contribute to the city civically and in partnership with those we share the research hub with, as the University intends.

I will be nearly full-time in the new role so I am giving up directing Policy Scotland, something I have done since 2013. I am also standing back from What Works Scotland which I helped develop and then co-directed for three years. Both roles have been tremendously rewarding and have re-energised me. Lessons from these two entities made important contributions to what became the CaCHE model. Policy Scotland allowed me to work with policymakers, Parliament and practice and to hopefully learn a little about how to do so more effectively.  What Works Scotland has taken me into new academic areas, forced me to think much harder about collaboration, co-production and evidence. Ideas about pluralism, dialogical approaches, multi-disciplinarity and a much more open attitude to evidence has been a great tonic for someone hitherto steeped in economics methodologies (admittedly a bit more plural and heterodox than some). I am therefore very grateful to colleagues in both institutes and wish them both well in the future. Both will be working with the new housing evidence centre.

It will be a few months before we are fully operational; indeed, we are not formally launching till October. But from August 1, it will be live and I for one cannot wait to get started.  It is a new start (and feels like one) but it is also great to be forging ahead with an ESRC funded housing research centre – exactly the same type of organisation where I started my career in Glasgow in the 1980s.

Housing New Zealand

I have just finished a short trip to New Zealand and on the way through the airport I picked up a book on housing by Philippa Howden-Chapman, a professor of public health at the University of Otago, called Home truths: Confronting New Zealand’s Housing Crisis. Written in 2015, it is a cry to roll back perceived inequality, improve housing conditions and build a more joined up and evidenced policy framework based on housing rights, affordability, fairness, sustainability and a focus on the system as a whole.

I have read a wee bit about the Auckland housing market which is particularly unaffordable and speculative;  and many years ago in Glasgow we entertained civil servants working on housing policy in New Zealand – but this was my first opportunity to read and digest a proper overview of the housing system as a whole.

The author focuses on a number of large issues, at the heart of which lie the commodification of housing, the run down and selling-off of state housing, the leaky homes scandal that saw 80,000 new homes built with faulty cladding, the lack of regulation in rented housing, the privileged tax status of owners and investors and a mess of housing subsidies.

The result is a poisonous mix of unaffordable housing, speculation, government and media opposition to social housing, exclusionary zoning and land supply that fuels sprawl and the car economy.

What is to be done? Howden-Chapman calls for four key policy reforms plus a number of follow up ancillary ideas. These involve:

  • subsidising mortgages for first time buyers but in ways that will not push up prices.
  • the promotion of corporate and institutional private renting investment to transform the sector in New Zealand
  • increased supply of inner city social housing including not for profits
  • tying rental subsidies to independent assessments of rental housing quality.

Additional policies proposed include regular assessments of housing condition through surveys and in turn comprehensive needs assessment. The author also calls for statutory responses over emergency homelessness and for the return of mandatory inclusionary zoning of affordable housing within new developments, wider support of brownfield higher density and compact city style urban management. Overall and consistent with these ideas, there should be a comprehensive national strategy for housing embracing the health and wider economic consequences of better housing.

Drawing on recent writing by Kate Barker, the author bemoans the short termism of New Zealand – something exacerbated by a three year electoral cycle. This fundamental lack of fit with long term housing problems is a universal problem and one of course I bang on about a lot of the time in these posts.

It reminded me of the point recently made by Anthony King in his 2015 Pelican book on Who Governs Britain? He was also deeply concerned with short termism and the inability to do enough systematically about difficult long term problems. He argued that, while they have plenty of inter-party rivalry, Nordic countries’ political parties often demonstrate a capacity to do a good job of coming together to build consensus and undertake policy proposals through national commissions that all, government and opposition alike, can sign up to and stick with over a period of time (i.e. over a succession on governments) to make headway with questions that the Anglo-Saxon countries just find insurmountable.

Perhaps this is how both New Zealand and the UK might overcome such wicked problems? Britain has a long and inglorious record  of using royal commissions to put things in the long grass. Could a formal and properly resourced cross party commission on topics like housing be made to work? Surely worth further thought and consideration?

A small addendum. Our flight this evening from Wellington to Sydney included one Boris Johnson and his FCO entourage fresh from his maiden visit to New Zealand. As probably the only Glaswegian on the flight I was tempted to engage with the great man concerning his widely reported comments the other day on arrival to NZ that the traditional Maori greeting of rubbing noses might lead to a head butt in a Glasgow bar. But he was in business class and I was in economy….

Glasgow’s rental market affordability challenges


In Scotland we have statutory housing strategies for each local authority. Even though it has no council housing, this is a big deal for Glasgow. The city has control over the distribution of capital grant funding to the housing association sector, remains a key landowner and rightly sees housing as central to the delivery of many of its wider corporate objectives. Glasgow like all Scottish councils manages a number of statutory functions such as homelessness and housing planning. Tuesday past was the first set-piece external consulting event and I was speaking at it on the topic of private housing, need and affordability.

The central evidence base that the housing strategy is informed by is the Glasgow Clyde Valley joint Housing Needs and Demand assessment (HNDA). This is an impressive piece of work and one that conforms to a standardised model of quantifying demographic and economic trends, and the overviews the existing housing system, before then going on to examine sources of housing need and estimate three scenarios (low and high migration and the principal projection). This Scottish Government supported statutory analysis is built on earlier eras of housing planning (such as the Local Housing Systems Analysis framework that I was earlier involved with). It is a solid and internally consistent approach that makes best use of data but, as is widely recognised, it is replete with conventions, judgments and assumptions. There are undoubtedly weaker areas in all HNDAs and one of the main challenges is the private rented sector.

Private renting has grown rapidly in the city (and is now over 60,000 units or 20% of the stock) and while we can put together a narrative about the emerging market based on different sources of quantitative and qualitative evidence, it remains impressionistic and I would argue that, generally, we know little about market behaviour on either the supply or demand side. Consequently, we risk undesirable outcomes if our policies for the sector are not based on firm evidence and convincing models of how the sector works and interacts with the rest of the city. Below is my impressionistic version.

Citylets data for the 4th quarter of 2015 suggested an average monthly rent in Glasgow of £701 (compared to £741 for Scotland). While the level is lower, Glasgow how has higher rental inflation (4.2% compared to 2%) and a reducing time to let period – 21 days compared to 30 for Scotland as a whole. So, the market has rising real rents and a tightening around vacant units being filled more quickly Wider evidence suggest that Glasgow (and in some cases Greater Glasgow has been experiencing rising real rents since 2010 and again this is outpacing the Scottish average. Scottish Government evidence also suggests that rents are diverging with upper quartile rents growing quicker than lower quartile rents.

I sat in a breakout session at the conference yesterday where it was suggested by someone in the industry that Glasgow’s 60,000 or so private rented units and no fewer than 35,000 landlords – that is quite a stylised fact if broadly true. It makes policy intervention, regulation and analysis of the sector highly challenging. Landlords may be largely single property landlords alongside a smaller number of multiple unit portfolio landlords. The former may be more ‘amateur’ and short run in perspective – but some actually may see the property as a pension substitute and hence be in for the longer haul unless external drivers like tax changes force then out.

Two things struck me about the landlord suppliers – the recent tax changes to mortgage interest tax relief, LBTT and capital gains tax will have highly differential effects on landlords. Those with stock and not planning to invest will be less affected by LBTT increases but those investing will. And as was pointed out in the meeting, constraining the tax relief to the basic rate could turn for some a profitable business into a loss-making one. Another colleague, second, differentiated between the amateur landlords being likely to be more likely to exist as the market recovers and in the face of these negative fiscal pressures but also as a result of concerns about the new Scottish legislation and how this all affects capital gains. On the other hand corporate investors with several properties will be more concerned about cash flow and income returns.

I remember my former colleague Peter Kemp used to talk about a highly segmented private rented sector with landlords composed of volunteers and conscripts. I think that both notions apply all the more so now – we have a highly differentiated market which caters for discrete groups: students, generation rent working households, those with short run easy access housing demands, and those at the bottom end of the housing ladder unable to access social housing.  I am not convinced we have the research evidence or monitoring capacity to really understand what is going on in each of these segments. Policy is overwhelmingly concerned with the latter problematic group but actually there is much more going on which has an important impact on the rest of the urban housing system.

I think the other really interesting idea raised by Peter’s characterisation is that we cannot assume all tenants are conscripts but indeed some of them are clearly volunteers. Not all Generation rent working tenants, usually younger households. are potential home owners. Some are clearly happy with their rental experience, do not expect to have the sort of job security associated with a traditional mortgage and certainly do not have the savings required for a deposit). But many are content with that reality and would rather trade off a good location (and a relatively high rent) to be able to access the amenity important to their preferences. But we simply do not know enough about the profile of these two forms of tenant who essentially substitute for the presently less accessible home ownership sector. But we need to know more and Glasgow needs to prioritise this in its evidence gathering and ongoing monitoring of its housing system.

Finally, it is interesting that, in a small way, housing associations in Glasgow are dipping their toe into mid market rent and indeed ‘normal’ private renting. Do they have the skills to manage properties commercially and which segment should they operate in? How do you manage estates or neighbourhoods where you have tenants with quite different rights and conditions? This may be anathema to some housing people but to others it is a diversification that makes sense and offers opportunities to improve local housing quality and widen the range of housing on offer.

Changing times.

Glasgow 2018 European Championships – Continuing the Journey

The 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow was a pivotal experience for the city and its people. This is not to say that there was not controversy and criticism of specific aspects of both the delivery and certain dimensions of the legacy. My point in this post though is whether or not lessons are learnt and applied to future undertakings. It is undoubtedly true however that Glasgow has demonstrated that it has the technical capacity, the facilities and the wherewithal to compete as a host for major events. The success of those 11 days in 2014 in these terms and for the city in the sense of jobs, visitor numbers, festival effects, investment in facilities, etc. now means that Glasgow can host other major sporting events: the world gymnastics, cycling, swimming and the Davis cup to name four since 2014.This is a remarkable achievement if we cast our minds back to just a few years ago.

I understand the critics of what are referred to as post-industrial neo-liberal urban policies fixating on heritage, tourism and culture or sports and also concerns about the ability to bend such programmes towards reducing inequality and proactively supporting multiple disadvantaged communities. But does being an event host competitor and winning these events make a broader kind of economic logic? It depends on whether we think the opportunity cost of event delivery is outweighed by the economic, social and more indirect tor implicit benefits of such activities. The raft of legacy research findings on economic returns, jobs, visitor spend and the like do seem to be additional – but they are also an investment if facilities can be reused not just by citizens but for further events, too. Other legacy lessons about volunteering, physical activity, community development and sports clubs, etc. are much less clear cut. Many of these debates will actually need a longer time period to be resolved.

My point in this piece is more that the city is on a journey and is being transformed into a place which can deliver these mega events (and sport-specific international events too), and if properly constructed this can add value to the city-region economy and change the way we think about it. It could enhance rather than displace other investments, job creation and economic activity (though there is no necessity for this – it requires careful design and constant attention).

It is in this context that I should declare an interest – I was a member of the cross University legacy research partnership that the City Council and Glasgow Life established for the 2014 Games. As part of that role I agreed to facilitate a workshop this week. The meeting sought to learn lessons from 2014 both operationally and in legacy terms, and apply them to the development of the delivery and legacy plans associated with Glasgow’s co-hosting of the summer 2018 inaugural European championships. Working with Berlin this will involve bringing together a series of European sporting championships for individual sports into one mega event. Glasgow and satellite venues will host cycling, swimming, triathlon, golf and rowing, among others; Berlin will do the athletics.

My role the other day was really just to hold the coats and keep things to time but it was nonetheless a thought-provoking morning and a fascinating insight into how partners (lead officers in the council, Glasgow Life and other relevant public agencies) are thinking their way through the challenges of the event. A few things struck me in particular.

First, a considerable amount has been learned about what works and what does not work as a result of the 2014 experience. This ranges from the locus of control and the relationship with other non-local partners integral to a mega events programme, but includes issues over community engagement, communication, managing expectations and trade-offs (e.g. seeking to widen inclusivity among volunteers but also selecting those with the right skills). However, people clearly recognised that there are limits to the transferability of these experiences because of the different nature of the two events.

Second, there was a complete absence of complacency and instead a shared desire to work in partnership with neighbouring councils involved in delivery, with Berlin, European broadcasting, the business community, local sports clubs, volunteers and the specific sports organising bodies. People present were both aware of and thinking hard about identifying and managing risks.

Third, it is clear that Glasgow has changed and is changing as a result of the 2014 experience. This is not just branding and the after glow of the festival effect from 2014. There is a palpable capacity to maintain and strengthen Glasgow’s recently won position as an international mega event host and to lever economic and social benefit from it. While they do not happen by themselves and are easily over-estimated, we should equally not dismiss the potentially major long term effects this may have on the city and indeed for Scotland.

Remembering Miller

I was sad to learn today that Miller the cat is no longer with us. This cat was not only well known to thousands of staff and students past and present at Glasgow University, he was a fixture of the place for many years. His fame has stretched so far that there is even a story of his passing in the Glasgow Herald today and on other news websites [1].

I always thought he lived quietly in Hillhead street in the residential area near the middle of the campus. Apparently he was known to frequent the main gatehouse of the Gilbert Scott building too but we knew him best in terms of his many forays into the Adam Smith Building and to Urban Studies in Bute Gardens.

In fact, he did rather well for many years via secretaries who fed him and kept him warm in inclement weather. You would often see him climbing the Adam Smith Building stairs heading to one of his sanctuaries along a teaching corridor (I seem to recall the urban studies journal office was for a long time a favourite destination) Miller had a facebook page for many years (I think called something like ‘the Adam Smith building cat’).

The Herald story said that he was 18 though it feels like he has been around much longer than that. The last time I saw him was a month or two ago and, to put it mildly, he was not exactly in playful mood. More to the point, in the midst of the University building a new smart campus over the next few years, the cry is now going up to name one the new buildings after this splendid cat. Quite right, too.

Note (includes photos):



Deal or No Deal?

Last night, Policy Scotland and the University invited the leader of Glasgow City Council, Gordon Matheson, to talk about the future of the City in the context of the recently agreed City Deal for Glasgow and the Clyde Valley. At a well-attended event, the city’s political leader covered a wider range of topics centered on the notion of the city-region, and the metropolitan economy as key economic driver of the future.[1]

When it was announced, I blogged about the City Deal (September 1 2014), a 20 year project, supported by both the Scottish and UK Governments and signed up to by all eight local authorities and valued at £1.13 billion. This is for the core infrastructure fund described as a ‘once in a generation’ investment. Complementing this will be a range of life science, business support and labour market schemes. Over the life of the City Deal, its proponents argue that it will create an additional 29,000 jobs across the city region (on top of 15,000 construction jobs), active labour market work with 19,000 unemployed residents, and it will lever in a further £3.3 billion of private sector funding.

The lion’s share of the public funds comes from UK Government and the Scottish Government (equally) [2]  but there is also a contribution from the partner councils. It is a binding long term agreement aimed at boosting national economic growth led by the city region over 20 years. It is intended that this will be capital funding for an infrastructure fund (20 projects across the city-region), an innovation fund and support to combat youth unemployment and to help low income workers progress through their careers. The infrastructure projects include a train route from the airport (a long-standing plan), land decontamination on the Clyde Waterfront, unlocking new housing sites in Lanarkshire, and harbour investment in Inverclyde. The Innovation work includes the University’s stratified medicine investments as part of the ongoing Southern General hospital project.

The Glasgow city deal is the largest in the UK and the first in Scotland. But there have been critics. How will the monitoring and accountability mechanisms ensure project delivery, implementation and private sector leverage? Will learning lessons be drawn on from other city deal projects? The public funding is argued to be less impressive when looked at annually. However, like the Commonwealth Games investment, it is to an extent about providing certainty about long term projects, accelerating their development and providing the strategic coherence that long term funds can provide. Also in an echo of the Games, the council leader pointed to the continuing collaboration benefits from the Clyde Valley councils working together in partnership – mainstreaming new ways of working. However, it was striking to place the City Deal in the context of the University’s campus redevelopment plan which involves somewhere between £500-700 million investment in the city’s west end when the University takes over the western infirmary site and in partnership with the city will remake a large part of that quarter of the city.

The council leader’s lecture was peppered with urban studies references: Glaeser, Katz, Leo Hollis, as well as nods to Richard Florida. For instance, on climate change, he cited the athletes village in Dalmarnock as the biggest carbon neutral development in the country and further major recycling plans at Polmadie as well as for combined heat and power across the city. This line fitted with his espousal of Glaeser’s defence of the contemporary environmental policy record of cities, the promotion of compact cities, active travel and higher densities.

It was also from this basis i.e. the metro revolution and city regions as key engines of economic prosperity that Matheson argued for stronger city-region fiscal and functional devolution. He contended that Scotland lags behind English urban policy where city deals are now established in all city-regions, where ‘Devo Manc’ is city deals on stilts’ but in comparison Scottish city-regions lag behind. He referred to the recent Respublica research that suggested the UK was one of the most centralised systems of local government given the dependence in central grant. The position was posited as even worse in Scotland (requiring 80% of grant in aid to fund services). Moreover, the council tax freeze, now in year 8, meant that if Glasgow raised its council tax at the margin it would face claw backs of £75 million.

Matheson went on to argue that while the political classes were focused via the Smith Commission on more powers for Holyrood they were weakening the scope for empowering dynamic city regions. He called for more devolution but less power for Holyrood and Whitehall. He identified a paradox of more devolution to Scotland but yet greater centralisation. More fiscal powers might help to address the imbalance between the core city (600,000 plus population) and the surrounding urban system (1.75m in total) in terms of paying for services provided by the city. Glasgow is a member of the UK Core Cities group and leads on smart/future cities – they see this lobbying collaboration as the way forward.

Gordon Matheson identified a number of functional areas that the council should have greater powers over, one of which was welfare. I asked him what he meant and in particular if he thought council should have more control over welfare benefits. He said he was more concerned with making welfare reform more humane and also that policies that work at a local level should not be compromised unnecessarily by similar but different policies at a higher level of government. A specific example of this was the living wage 12 month wage subsidy policy established in Glasgow provided by the council thereafter followed by an Scottish Government 6 month policy based on the lower minimum wage – sowing confusion among employers.

It was an interesting evening. There is opportunity associated with the city deal and further inter-council collaboration in the Clyde Valley. But there are also huge challenges in terms of revenue spending cuts and austerity that will need to be accommodated. The issues concerning devolution to council levels, fiscal powers and decentralisation chime with what Policy Scotland raised in its own submission to Smith. It was also significant that Glasgow sees itself now as part of a network of UK and international cities, drawing on urbanists and evidence that might promote learning about how to help support urban economic growth.

There is clear complementarity between the agenda set out by Matheson and that found in the Strengthening Local Democracy prospectus. Moreover, devolution was also not seen to stop at the city chambers – there was also much discussion last night about the enhanced role of community partnerships, area partnerships and proposals for community budgeting at the local scale. How this will work in practice is a key element in the What Works Scotland Glasgow case study that will proceed over the next three years.

Finally, there was the dog that didn’t bark – will there be renewed calls for city deals for Edinburgh and further up the east coast to Aberdeen and Dundee? What might that mean if more of Scotland followed the UK urban policy route?

1. A more party political and less policy-focused account of the lecture can be found in the Herald, November 6 2014, ‘Matheson: Sturgeon is stifling revolution for cities’

2. This is an updated version of this post. David Waites pointed out correctly that SG and the UK Government both put £500m into the pot – not, as I had originally suggested that more had come from the UK end. Mea culpa.

Glasgow’s City Deal

I have been reading about the newly announced though much trailed Glasgow and Clyde Valley City Deal [1]. The Glasgow and Clyde Valley City Region is made up of eight local authorities and consists of 1.75 million people accounting for a third of Scottish GVA, a third of Scottish jobs and just under 30% of Scottish businesses.

The City Deal, a 20 year project, supported by both the Scottish and UK Governments and signed up to by all eight local authorities (2) is valued at £1.13 billion. This is for the core infrastructure fund described as a ‘once in a generation’ investment. Complementing this will be a range of life science, business support and labour market schemes. Over the life of the City Deal, its proponents argue that it will create an additional 29,000 jobs across the city region (on top of 15,000 construction jobs), active labour market work with 19,000 unemployed residents, and it will lever in a further £3.3 billion of private sector funding.

What is going on here and what are its prospects? The funding involves £500 million from both the UK and Scottish Governments and a minimum of £139 million for the local authorities. The funding is designed to further grow transport infrastructure investment, provide sites for housing and employment and improve public transport over 10 to 20 years. This will be complemented by investment in the life science sector (e.g. stratified medicine led by my University and other partnership in the field between business, academics and medicine), other business support ventures (including a key role for the University of Strathclyde in a business incubation centre). Moreover the labour market policy work will be targeted at construction jobs, helping people on Employment Support Allowance youth unemployment, and pilot labour market progression schemes.

The City Deal is suitably dressed in governance, monitoring and outcome measurement requirements with public investment tied into delivering on these objectives over annual and five year periods throughout the 20 year life of the programme. The scheme will operate within an infrastructure fund assurance framework in order to deliver value for money for the public investment.

It builds on the investment in the Commonwealth Games, the M74 extension into the city (plus the further investment to the M80), the improvement to the Glasgow subway, the Southern General NHS hospital investment and the Clyde Gateway regeneration company – just focusing on Glasgow itself.

What is innovative about this announcement? Beyond the funding package, the City Deal will establish an independent commission on urban economic growth that will analyse the outcomes of the infrastructure fund against agreed indicators. Second, the councils involved will have to manage the capital investment programme including bearing the responsibility for any required prudential borrowing and managing any shortfalls that might emerge relative to the overall programme and specific sub-period elements. Despite the large scale public investment, the councils will be under financial pressure to deliver and do this as a pooled partnership.

What questions remain to be answered? First, it would be churlish to criticize this initiative at one level – the resource involved and the potential long term impact of the infrastructure work, plus the considerable commitment to targeted labour market policies are commendable and potentially hugely important for Glasgow. Second, the unanswered question for me remains how this all fits strategically with ongoing and previous large scale investments in the city region and the underlying analytical understanding of the wider urban economy and its drivers. How does it all add up? What will the transport investment actually deliver? Third, what has been learned from the experience thus far in the English city regions? Again, there is no sense of acknowledging evidence of engaging with the evidence from England, even if there are important institutional differences. What worked and what did not?

It is of course a high level narrative at this point and understandably lacks the detail one might crave for. There are many issues and challenges (e.g. what does the 18 September mean for the programme?). We have seen this year that Glasgow can both deliver huge complex projects (with governmental support) and work through complex legacy evaluation frameworks. It would only be fair to say that the programme builds on emerging strengths such as working with the leading edge of the city’s Universities and focusing on key labour market issues that reflect chronic disadvantages in the most deprived parts of the city region. The programme continues the Commonwealth Games theme of building on and linking to success such as the new hospital investment in Glasgow and the initiative in stratified medicine. It will need to apply these lessons carefully snd thoroughly.

Good luck.



  1. See:


  1. The eight participating councils are: Glasgow, East Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, East Renfrewshire, Renfrewshire and Inverclyde councils.



In a few days Glasgow will host its first mega event. The preparations, the visitors and the symbols of the Commonwealth Games are inescapable throughout the city. Even where I live in Lanarkshire, the triathlon is taking place in Strathclyde Park and I’ll be able to walk to the event.

Since the announcement that Glasgow had won 2014 more than six years ago, with academic colleagues we have been debating the Games, the notion of legacy and the pros and cons of committing to such a massive project. It will cost more than £560 million, not counting the disruption and other unaccounted for real costs, and many have argued that this is a high price to pay for what is predominantly a sporting festival. Critics point to the previous evidence of other sports and cultural events, which found little evidence of long-term benefits. Others argue that these mega events represent neo-liberal responses to urban decline and post-industrial regeneration through sport and cultural tourism attached to more or less city boosterism. Contrary to the position stressed by the organising hosts, critics argue that far from being inclusive, they are examples of and reasons why local people lose out when events like the Games are imposed on them.

The response to this from those more favourably disposed or at least willing to test the proposition is multi-faceted. First, the external bodies awarding future games require credible legacy pledges. So, if you are going to bid, there will necessarily be clams being made. Expectations of legacy have also steadily risen with each round of bidding. Are they realistic and have they been modified in the light of the experience of preparing for Glasgow 2014? Second, unlike previous events, Glasgow is different because it has since the awarding of the 2014 Games been planning for legacy, developing a multi-level evaluation framework for the different dimensions of legacy and involving extensive independent research testing both the Government’s and the council’s legacy frameworks. Third, legacy happens after the Games and analysis and measurement will go on for 5-7 years after the event is over. But the evaluation commitment will need to be sustained if these lessons are to be learned.

These are all lessons learnt from previous games in places like Barcelona, Manchester and London. Glasgow is another step on that journey and the 2014 Games is a different stage on the city’s long term regeneration which offer the possibility of impacting positively on that process. But to be clear, these are all propositions to be tested, and, moreover, the multiple nature of the legacy goals (e.g. economic growth, environmental sustainability, inclusiveness, international connectedness, etc.) may well come into conflict with each other and not simply be additive.

As part of my policy knowledge exchange work we have established a new legacy research network which we hope will bring cities and academics together to discuss sharing knowledge and learning about what works and what does not from sporting and cultural events around the world (and also provide a space for robust critical analysis). Initially, we are looking at Glasgow 2014 and we seek to clearly situate legacy in terms of Glasgow and its regional regeneration/development. We are working with the City, its cultural and sport agency Glasgow Life, and representatives of the three Universities in the city. Our first activity was to hold a panel session last week asking what is legacy, what can it mean for Glasgow and what lessons can we draw about its evaluation? We plan to hold an inaugural international conference in Glasgow in the middle of October 2015.

The panel session involved contributions from Bridget McConnell (Director of Glasgow Life), my colleague Ade Kearns (who leads the Go Well programme and the east end community evaluation of 2014 legacy) and Robert Rogerson (Strathclyde University) who for three years has been funded to examine legacy in an innovative partnership involving the same partners who are involved in our legacy network. The main points that struck me from the debate were the following:

  1. The evaluation of the legacy will be complex (to put it mildly). Isolating cause and effect and capturing the independent effects of Games-related activities that are genuinely additional, to point to just two issues – will be methodologically challenging in the extreme.
  2. The panel were clear that there would be no simple answers confirming or denying lasting legacy effects. As Ade Kearns pointed out, almost any element of the games project investments can be viewed in positive and in negative terms depending on perspective and context. Moreover, the idea that legacy impacts will follow in an emulative way always runs the risk of depending on how the individuals concern choose to respond. Interventions cannot make people be more active, for instance, if they have other countervailing incentives that trump the intervention.
  3. A novel feature of the 2014 model is early access to community facilities for local people. This has been successful and is likely to help sustain the facilities investment (as well as make wider local provision available).
  4. Ade Kearns also argued that broader regeneration initiatives (in public health and in physical infrastructure via the M74 motorway extension and Clyde Gateway business space investment) would inevitably overwhelm the independent effects of 2014. But that does not mean that legacy’s complementarity to the bigger regeneration programme is not worthwhile.
  5. It was also pointed out that the opportunity cost figure is not straightforward because some of the big investments represent the acceleration of investments that were planned but were able to be brought forward and done so together for 2014. For instance, the national sport centre was accelerated while the adjacent velodrome was completely new.
  6. The hosting of 2014, assuming it is successful, also places Glasgow in a more competitive position to draw benefits from future bidding for sports and cultural events to the benefit of the city and region. In 2015, for instance, Glasgow will host the World Gymnastics. Will the city develop a capacity to build on this success, how do we assess the returns on such a direction taken strategically, and, who stands to benefit from it?
  7. Finally, Glasgow city council has recognised the partnership working benefits of delivering a huge project like 2014. They are keen to not lose these process benefits when normal service is resumed and they are therefore looking at how to mainstream them into everyday council activities.

Like the study of area regeneration, research and evaluation in this field is remarkably difficult and challenging, which makes it so interesting and this is precisely why knowledge exchange and opportunities to work with other cities including to challenge legacy ideas and beliefs – is something that seems really worth doing. You can find out more about the legacy research network at the Policy Scotland website (

First things first – there are events to deliver and sport to enjoy. We’ll talk more after the festival is over.

Red Road Rage?

It had all been going so well. While there is always a modicum of cynicism about mega events and there have been one or two specific problems in the re-development of the Dalmarnock area (such as a very public refusal to move out by one family), the run-up to the Glasgow Commonwealth Games was going smoothly. That was until the decision was taken to blow up five of the six iconic Red Road flats in the north of Glasgow during the opening ceremony.

My immediate reaction was that this was ‘what an odd thing to do’. Organisers said that this was both a commemoration and a reflection of the revival and renewal of the city – but it was all widely viewed as a rather bizarre, even gross form of entertainment. A strange image to send round the world about the city. A second element to the story was the decision to leave one of the remaining six blocks standing since it still had a job to house a proportion of Glasgow’s large asylum seeker/refugee population.

The local communities, politicians, Glaswegians and the arts community launched an effective campaign complete with media support and a 17,000 plus petition of opposition. The Deputy First Minister made the best contribution saying that she still supported the demolition but that it had to be done ‘sensitively’. This conjures up interesting images of somehow less explosive detonations.

The tide was however unstoppable and the decision was finally taken not to do the blow down during the opening ceremony. Since then there has been both a process of damage limitation by one side and further comment by both the victors and a still rather bemused audience (in which I include myself). The official response was that for safety and security reasons (i.e. there might be a protest) it was better not to go ahead.

What are to make of this episode? In the first place it would seem to show a pretty inadequate consultation process – something the protagonists have generally been pretty good at hitherto. Second, a bit like that elapsing time period when the position of a minister becomes untenable and eventually resignation becomes inevitable, there was a real sense that the decision would not hold and they would have to backtrack. Third, as far as I understand it, there is no question that the flats will not be coming down though I do not think anyone is yet suggesting that it should be co-ordinated for the closing ceremony! Fourth and perhaps more positively, it has brought the position of the asylum seekers back however briefly to the foreground of housing and city debates in Glasgow.

A final point. As I have argued in an earlier post – I do not have a problem with demolition per se and think it is a useful solution in certain circumstances, as is often the case in Glasgow and elsewhere but I also recognise that other positive outcomes are possible for the re-use of such buildings – as GHA have shown converting a multi in Ibrox into mid market rent, which is now fully let. There are also refurbished former council multi-storey flats just a stone’s throw from the opening ceremony.

I know there are commentators and academics who are profoundly critical of both the community effects of demolition/clearance (as many of the same people are of the Commonwealth Games project itself). While they had a point to say that the opening ceremony blow down was a mistake and ill-thought through, I think it is not correct to view one stage (the clearance) of a huge and lengthy regeneration programme going on across Glasgow as in some way pathologising the poor and its communities. I have been directly involved in several big regeneration programmes and well remember understandably cynical tenants not believing the promises we were making after previous failures by their former landlord. We knew these things had worked elsewhere and knew we had the resources and expertise to make it work there. It did – but they had to see it for themselves. Simply dismissing the process because of one albeit dramatic destructive bit of symbolism at a point in time in the case of Red Road is a category error. Rather: judge it by its results in terms of homes, community and the like.