Cllr Thomas Kerr represents Shettleston Ward on Glasgow City Council.
Last October, Conservative Party members arrived in Manchester for our annual conference. On arrival, the likeness between Glasgow and Manchester struck me immediately: the people, the culture, the busyness and the social life.
However, one thing hit me harder and that was the stark contrast in infrastructure investment.
Glasgow is, in my opinion, the best city in the UK; however, our sluggish economic growth and minimal infrastructure investment, when compared to Manchester, is becoming a major issue for us.
In Manchester I noticed the skyline is full of cranes, while in Glasgow, there are next to none, and that should worry us here in Scotland’s largest city. Progress is being made elsewhere, while we are all but standing still.
Glasgow’s economy has stagnated and while this is worrying, it is not surprising because currently we have a “City Government” focused on process, rather than investment.
To me, no more is this true than in the example of a current planning proposal taking place in the city centre. The development at Glasgow’s famous High Street is controversial, but wrongly being criticised by leading members of the SNP. To conserve an area rich in history is admirable, but to do this blindly, is dangerous.
The development at High Street is not just for new student accommodation, but will have incorporated within it the Old College Bar, a new restaurant and office space. This project would bring 350 construction jobs, £30 million worth of infrastructure investment, and around £500 million to Glasgow’s economy. Yet the SNP “City Government” is against such a move.
Under the SNP, the Scottish economy is underperforming compared to growth in the UK as a whole. Business leaders have warned against making Scotland the most highly taxed part of the UK, but SNP politicians haven’t listened. Nicola Sturgeon and Susan Aitken, the leader of Glasgow council, are no friends of economic growth.
In Glasgow, we are losing vital investment to other major cities in England, and this is due in part both to our planning processes within the city and to political decisions. Glasgow needs politicians that are willing to take decisions that will grow our economy and make us a real competitor again with cities like Manchester.
This is where my party comes in. Conservatives are pro-growth, but we need to be clearer about what that means. During last month’s city council budget debate, the Conservative Group offered sensible plans for Glasgow; plans for investment and capital spending. Plans that would see council tax frozen, but through careful financial management, investment in the areas that matter to residents across the city.
Our budget offered investment in frontline services, with funds to grow the economy, make our streets cleaner, and repair our crumbling roads. We also offered more money for education, homelessness, mental health services and community facilities, not to mention making good on our pledge to devolve power down to communities. We genuinely want to “let Glasgow flourish”.
The hospitability, cultural, media, conference, financial, and business sectors have all chosen before to make Glasgow their home. Yet what we’ve seen since the new administration took over is a lack of confidence to build on our past success.
The current bid by the SNP administration to bring Channel 4 to Glasgow is one which I fully support. However, to argue that a UK-wide institution like Channel 4 should invest in Scotland, while the politicians running Glasgow believe Scotland should leave the UK, defies logic. Their constitutional obsession is hurting our country and our economy.
The Glasgow Region City Deal offered the prospect of over £1 billion of investment, with both UK and Scottish Government money being on the table to make a real difference in creating jobs and boosting our long-term economic prospects. However, there are question marks over the ability of some of the projects to add to the economy in the long term, and we await with interest what will happen to the much discussed Glasgow Airport Rail Link. Most major cities have a rail link to their airport. If Glasgow wants to continue to compete at the top level, I think we need it and I would certainly want this infrastructure for my city. Being stuck in an M8 traffic jam is not the best welcome to Scotland.
Rather than standing up for Glasgow, Aitken is still too focused on the constitutional question. When her colleagues in the Scottish Government cut the budget of Glasgow city council, did she criticise them? Of course not. Even her own Twitter account says it all about where her priorities lie. Her background photo is not one of the many iconic images in our city, instead it reads: “I’m still YES”.
That’s my main problem with the SNP.: they claim to champion Scotland, but actually, they’re only trying to further their own narrow political objectives.
SNP politics is clear and simple – snipe and gripe, create division and gain independence. When Aitken wakes up, she isn’t thinking about Glasgow’s economy or how much business we’re losing to Manchester; she thinks about independence. Until Glasgow gets an administration that is focused on economic growth, rather than the constitution, our city will continue to lose out.
The Conservative Group will continue to champion our city. Our group leader, David Meikle, has made investment his number one priority. That’s why our budget proposal was full of ideas to promote economic growth and make Glasgow work for everyone.
Adam Tomkins, one of our Glasgow MSPs, has also made economic growth one of his key priorities and has met with business organisations and many others who are interested in boosting Glasgow’s economy in the coming years.
Conservatives have the economy, growth, and boosting employment at the heart of our thinking. After years of Labour stagnation and an unimaginative start by the SNP, Glasgow is crying out for change. While the Conservative Group may be only eight of the 85 councillors in the City Chambers, our voices are being heard. We will make it our mission to promote our city, to grow our city’s economy and make sure that we are leading the way, not just in the UK, but internationally as well.