FEW things have been as symbolic of Glasgow’s renaissance in recent decades as our city centre. In little over 20 years our International Financial Services District has been a magnet for some of the biggest global names in business and commerce. Our retail offer has long been recognised as amongst the most buoyant and attractive outside of London. And our hospitality and entertainment offer is genuinely world class, a major lure for tourists, major conferences and the talent which has contributed towards Glasgow’s success. The city centre is not only the economic hub of Scotland’s one true metropolitan area, it has defined who and what we are as Glaswegians.

City centres across Europe have been particularly badly hit by the economic and social crisis created by the Covid pandemic and Glasgow is no exception. But shared experience doesn’t lessen the pain of seeing businesses struggle and the livelihoods of so many Glaswegians cast under a shadow. The necessity of working from home for the majority of office staff has had a major detrimental effect on footfall for shops, cafes and bars, especially during the week. Social distancing has meant some businesses which rely on close personal contact, especially those within the evening economy, have been unable to operate at all. And with travel hit, Glasgow’s hotel and tourism sectors have been amongst the most badly affected sectors. There is evidence that Glasgow is performing better than some other large cities but the vibrancy and vitality of our city centre is critical, both economically and socially. It is something we need to address in the immediate term and to get the pieces in place for the long road ahead.

As Glasgow Times readers will be aware, early on in the pandemic I convened the Glasgow Economic Recovery Group to help steer the city through this turbulent period. Made up from experts from the public, private, academic and social sectors, GERG’s role has been to advise Government on the actions needed to generate the growth Glasgow’s recovery will require. The city centre and the key sectors it is home to have been pivotal to GERG’s discussions. At the same time we have listened to partners at the Chamber of Commerce and to the results of work carried out by the Council’s own economic development teams. It is clear that within Glasgow’s wider economic and social recovery, the City Centre requires its own dedicated team. It needs a team reflecting both the public and private sectors which can provide the leadership this incredible asset needs, both to see it through the immediate response to Covid and to help steer it through the wider structural changes the pandemic has accelerated.

That’s why we’re establishing a dedicated City Centre Task Force to make the case for financial support for affected businesses, identify specific support for the hospitality sector, work with transport providers to improve access to the area, support businesses around social distancing requirements, and promote our city centre to those who want to enjoy what it has to offer, both safely and responsibly. It will also help create the policies and strategies needed as the city centre evolves in the coming years.

We have plenty to build on. Just yesterday, in addition to the £120M already issued to city firms, we opened the Covid-19 Restrictions Fund to support businesses directly affected by the additional temporary measures announced earlier in the month. The Avenues Project is gearing up for its next phase and in the years ahead will deliver the biggest transformation to the city centre since the pedestrianisation of Buchanan Street over 40 years ago. A new George Square, with the really wonderful new Queen Street Station, will change for the better the look and feel of our key civic space. Andy, crucially, we have the willingness and expertise of Team Glasgow to fight our corner and help navigate our path through this crisis.

It was great to see Glasgow internationally recognised on several very important issues in the past week.

Firstly, the top prize of Global Green City for 2020 is testament to just how far we’ve travelled in overcoming the legacies of our past and a recognition of our commitment to taking on the challenges from the climate emergency. It’s a real stake in the ground just over a year before we host COP26.

Organisations like the United Nations know that Glasgow’s cleaner and greener future means taking our people with us and making sure every community benefits, be that through improving open spaces, making homes more fuel efficient or making sure our children are equipped with the skills for tomorrow’s industries. We’re standing out in an often crowded field.

And just yesterday the Council has been selected to join the Open Government Partnership (OGP), an organisation that brings together governments and civil society leaders to create more transparent, inclusive, and participatory government. These are principles the SNP was committed to improving in opposition and that we are delivering in administration.

But these awards are not mere plaudits. They often have tangible and significant impacts. They can lead to investment, jobs, the staging of major events and the financial boost these bring.

And critically, they retain Glasgow’s reputation as outward-looking and international. As the world watches the UK hurtle towards a No Deal Brexit under Boris’s Tories it is vital Glasgow continues to be regarded as a global and progressive city.