New prospects light up for the smart city

Glasgow is truly ‘investment ready’ and it already has a robust physical and digital infrastructure, a respected education sector and skilled workforce

Using data technologies and supported by large-scale investment, The Future City Glasgow programme is a trailblazer in the UK

By Frank Simpson

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In the decades since the strident sound of heavy engineering was the persistent and dominant soundtrack to Glasgow life, the city has successfully transformed itself into a vibrant, cosmopolitan centre for financial services, technology, biotech and academic research – among many other areas. In short, it has implemented a forward-looking restructuring fit for the global economy and its challenges.

Glasgow is firmly on the path to become a truly ‘smart’ digital city and is building on its status, awarded in 2013, as the UK’s first ‘Future City’ in an initiative funded partly by £24m from what is now Innovate UK. The Future City Glasgow programme has demonstrated how using data technologies can make life in the city safer, smarter and more sustainable.

Additionally, £150m of initial capital and a further £250m has been committed to a ‘city innovation district’ in its very heart, to be focused on engineering and health and life sciences.

As its city prospectus shows, Glasgow is truly ‘investment ready’ and it already has a robust physical and digital infrastructure, a large, internationally respected tertiary education sector, skilled workers and good transport connectivity within Scotland, to London – and with continental Europe and North America.

Its workforce is young and skilled: of a population of more than 606,000, nearly 24% are aged between 16-29 years and 70.1% (425,000) are of working age. Plus, it has the second highest percentage of working-age individuals with a degree-level qualification among the ‘Core Cities’ network of England’s eight largest city economies outside London along with Glasgow and Cardiff.

Business in Glasgow is booming – and as a result so is the economy. There are 31,000 Glasgow businesses registered with Companies House and 18,000 private enterprises with HMRC/PAYE. All of this helped generate £19.3bn Gross Value Added (GVA) in 2014, the largest GVA contribution by any UK city.

The city’s big hitters in financial and business services include JP Morgan’s European Technology Centre located in Glasgow’s International Financial Services District (IFSD), which is also home to Morgan Stanley’s second largest European centre after London. California’s Cloudwick opened its European headquarters in Glasgow to serve customers for its digital business services.

In the increasingly important contact centre sector, Parseq, a company with clients that include insurers and the UK’s top 10 banks, has taken advantage of affordable office space availability to relocate within the city to enable expansion. And in financial services, Swedish bank Handelsbanken recently opened a second branch in Glasgow to address demand for banks where branches have more autonomy over decisions.

Aside from the large pool of skilled employees in insurance, banking and other financial services across central Scotland, companies value the high output of suitably qualified graduates and connections with local skills providers, colleges and universities. The University of Strathclyde is starting an MSc in FinTech next September, for example.

As for physical infrastructure, improvements are being made to the Glasgow-Edinburgh rail services, and the M8 motorway will further link the Central Belt while a direct rail connecting the city centre to Glasgow Airport has been announced and council leaders earlier this week backed plans for the £144m Glasgow Airport Access project paid for by the £1.13bn Glasgow City Region Deal.

There is room for businesses to start up, grow or move in – and for developers to build or refurbish speculatively. Development sites suitable for office, hotel or residential development are among opportunities outlined in Glasgow’s investment guide for 2016.

Becoming a truly ‘smart’ city can only add to Glasgow’s appeal. Two examples from the Future City Glasgow programme are the Glasgow Operations Centre and the City Data Hub.

The operations centre is a state-of-the- art, integrated traffic and public safety management system which brings together public space CCTV, security for the council’s museums and art galleries, traffic management and police intelligence.

Meanwhile, the Data Hub, on which the council worked with software giant Microsoft, gathers hundreds of streams of information: energy use, pollution, traffic information and health statistics. Organisations can then automate publication of their data, which is stored at the Hub and made available to service providers, businesses and the public through an Open Data Catalogue allowing Glasgow and other cities to share and innovate.

The Hub tools make data more accessible and more visual, allowing users to perform complex analysis of the various sets of Big Data in the catalogue.

David Walker of Glasgow’s City Data Hub highlights the importance of predictive analytics
David Walker of Glasgow’s City Data Hub highlights the importance of predictive analytics

“The learning and reputation we have built up with Future City Glasgow are two of the most positive outcomes so far,” said Gary Walker, Programme Director. “Cities across the globe aspire to become ‘smart’, but many are still at the very early stage.

“We have been able to attract additional investment to develop our smart ambitions further,” he added. This includes Horizon 2020 European funding for Glasgow to collaborate with cities in the Netherlands and Sweden.

Again, and crucially looking beyond the city’s own boundaries, Glasgow is also lead partner in the project Scotland’s 8th City: The Smart City Programme, for which the Scottish Cities Alliance secured £10m of European Regional Development Fund backing toward a £24m programme to co-design technology and data opportunities to further cities’ ambitions to become global high-tech hubs. These future, new or scaled-up activities could make the city more cyclist and pedestrian friendly using data for an informed view of travel patterns. This might involve smart meters within smart power grids to better manage energy systems in buildings; maximising efficiency of public transport; lights that brighten if they detect a disturbance and that collect data on pollution and footfall and lights on cycle and walking routes that brighten when cyclists approach.

Walker added: “If you can correlate information on ‘on-street’ and ‘off-street’ parking space availability, drivers can save time finding it. Predictive analytics based on data for traffic and pedestrian behaviour when a big event takes place could give retailers insights to run their businesses more profitably at such times.”

He concluded: “We are demonstrating that data smart strategies can increase security and safety, save money, reduce carbon footprints and contribute towards the overall sustainability of cities. All of that is good for people and businesses who value security, connectivity, efficient transport and a good quality of life for employees.”

While the Operations Centre and Data Hub are drawing connections between the dots of life in Glasgow, the council has itself joined up how it supports business investors. Invest Glasgow (investglasgow.com) provides a single-door, first point of contact that assists from the initial enquiry to ongoing, dedicated aftercare.


Confident that business will flourish

Brodies, Scotland’s largest law firm, exemplifies business confidence in Glasgow’s potential to create jobs in the future. The firm has advised on various recent major property deals in the city and has itself increased headcount in its Glasgow office by 40% over five years to stand at more than 220 currently, and has moved into new, modern, technologically advanced offices along the way.

“There is substantial confidence that financial services and business in general will continue to flourish here,” said Frank Doran, a Glasgow-based Brodies consultant who regularly advises banks, asset managers and insurers.

Frank Doran points to a large pool of skilled talent and educational strengths
Frank Doran points to a large pool of skilled talent and educational strengths

“Wider political and economic uncertainties such as Brexit are not holding Glasgow back, and recent news on non-residential property bodes well for the future,” Doran observed.

He cited Morgan Stanley’s decision to take on new premises as the multinational financial services corporation’s main offices in the city. “We believe that there will be enough good quality accommodation available to ensure that Glasgow is competitive against other office locations when companies are deciding where to invest,” he added.

“The large pool of skilled talent in the city and environs, and the strength of local universities in disciplines of interest to growth industries are other attractants. It all adds up to a strong message: Glasgow has the human and physical infrastructure to support growing businesses.”