Business and Industry in Glasgow

As the major ‘heavy’ industries in the city collapsed during the 20th century, Glasgow suffered the ignobility of reputedly being a city of high unemployment and social depravation. However, by the 1990s the city had reversed its fortunes and Glasgow City Council was attracting inward investment in the burgeoning finance, ‘hi-tech’ and tourism tertiary sectors of employment; the boom in the tourist trade mainly arising after the city became ‘European City of Culture’ in 1990.

Between the 1950s and 1990s the number of jobs in the city was reduced by almost one third, from around 560,000 jobs in total, as the ‘old’ industries saw their work disappear abroad to cheaper Far Eastern competition. From that economic low, with the aid of UK and European grants, the city made a staggering recovery. Using its economic development strategy Glasgow now supports over 430,000 jobs that create an economic output in excess of £13.5 billion a year. In the past decade alone, the economic growth has been so rapid that nearly 80,000 jobs were created, helping to get nearly 40,000 Glaswegians into full-time employment. As with most UK cities a lot of the growth in the employment market came from the service sector. Whilst the single largest employment sector in the city is Public Services, the second largest group is now in Financial and Banking services. A total of 105,000 employees now work in this sector, making Glasgow a serious contender to Edinburgh for being known as the financial capital of Scotland. Sadly the number of manufacturing jobs in Glasgow is continuing to fall by about 5% a year and currently stands at 23,000 - compared to over 200,000 in the middle of the 20th century. However and perhaps alarmingly, Glasgow remains the fourth largest city for employment in manufacturing industries in the UK.

The days of shipyards like Harland and Wolff, at Govan in Glasgow, employing tens of thousands of men are gone. However, shipbuilding and what are classed as heavy engineering industries are still important to the city’s employment profile. Recently, British Aerospace completed the first of the Royal Navy’s fleet of new Type 45 Destroyers, HMS Daring, at its Glasgow BAe Systems Naval Ship building works at Govan, on the river Clyde.  As well as shipbuilding Glasgow has a long tradition of involvement in railway engineering. The engineering company Babcock International has its First Engineering division at the Hamilton International Park, in Blantyre - Glasgow. The company is one of several in the Glasgow area that provides solutions in all aspects of modern railways from track to signalling and power units.

The financial district of Glasgow is to the west of the city centre and is now the third largest in the UK, behind London and Edinburgh, it is also the sixteenth largest in Europe. Eight of the ten largest insurance companies in the UK have their head offices in Glasgow, which also has major offices of all the UK’s leading banks.

The development of the Glasgow tourist industry is one of almost unparalleled success. Although rarely seen today the renaissance of Glasgow began when the city came up with the slogan “Glasgow’s miles better”, which featured a graphic that was a cross between a ‘Mr Men’ character and a ‘smiley’ face. The city then started to bid for and attract awards; in 1988 it started its own Garden Festival, which was followed in 1990 with the award of European City of Culture. The city continued bidding for events that would bring tourists to the city and in 1999 became the UK City of Architecture and recently the city won its bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games. About 30,000 people are employed in the tourism industry in Glasgow and the industry is worth about three quarters of a billion pounds to the city annually. With a newly built conference centre Glasgow is 25th on the international list of conference destinations. An industry that today works in tandem with the tourist one is the drinks industry. Glasgow has a reputation as being a ‘drinker’ city and it certainly has the companies there to keep the bars, clubs and supermarket shelves full. Many famous brands of alcoholic drinks are produced in the city including: Whyte & MacKay’s and William Grant & Sons whiskey, Tennent’s beers and lagers and interestingly  Pernod Ricard, which is now the owner of Ballantine’s whiskey. Sadly one of the best known names in Scotch whiskey - Johnnie Walker Whiskey - is also now owned by a foreign company, the Diageo Corporation.

Tertiary sector developments include companies working in the Bio-Science, Telecommunications and Creative industries choosing to locate themselves in Glasgow. Recent growth in these sectors has led to Glasgow being included in what is known as the western end of the Silicon Glen. Companies working in the ‘hi-tech’ end of the tertiary sector include house-hold names like ICI and lesser well known ones like beCogent who, although only established in 1999, is now one of the top 10 contact service providers to companies in the UK and employs nearly 1000 people at its Glasgow headquarters.