Glasgow's city centre has significantly declined over the past 10 years, a new draft report has found, with a number of recommendations to revive commerce.

It has previously been reported that there were 410,000 fewer visitors in May compared with the same month last year, with a raft of closures in areas such as Buchanan Street and Sauchiehall Street in recent years.

Now a draft report produced for the City Centre Task Force, procured through Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, has found falls in several key indicators from 2014 to 2023.

It revealed that GDP had fallen 15.1%, employment by 10%, output by 12.9% and gross value added (GVA) by 17%.

If the 2014 output of £ 2.16bn had remained static, it would have risen to £2.88bn in 2023 based on a Bank of England annualized inflation rate of 3.2% per annum. However, the 2023 output has in fact significantly reduced in real terms, to £1.88bn.

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The Moffat Centre was commissioned by the Chamber of Commerce to undertake a measurement of the impact of the night time economy (NTE) in the city centre of Glasgow in 2014 and in 2023.

It found that while there had been "significant fluctuation in the UK macro-economic environment" but while "some of the decline is understandable and can be equated with changing consumption habits, there are a range of other factors which have to be considered".

The report identified a -18% downturn in visitation to restaurants, cafés, retail, shopping centres, museums, libraries and cinemas in Glasgow. Furthermore, there was a -30% downturn in use of public transport over the same period. 

Some of the contraction can be explained by the impact of Brexit, the cost of living which has reduced consumer spending, and in particular the Covid pandemic which hit the night time economy particularly hard.

While some aspects of the night time economy will "never recover", the report stated that the sector can be "positively enhanced through supportive infrastructure, transportation, sensitive communication, licensing and consultation".

The LEZ in Glasgow

Parking charges, limited public transport and the introduction of the LEZ zone has also impacted on perceptions of cost of city centre based activities, the report said.

Another factor highlighted was the significant reduction in the numbers of people working in Glasgow city centre post-pandemic.

More than 80% of employers in the city offer hybrid working options, with around half of these operating three-day weeks - Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday - which "has a clear effect on trade" after 6pm in the city centre.

The low concentration of residential population in the city centre has also had an impact.

Glasgow City Council is attempting to address this problem with the so-called 'Golden Z' scheme, which will increase the population living on Buchanan Street, Argyle Street and Sauchiehall Street through 1,350 new or converted flats.

(Image: Glasgow City Council)

However, the report notes that progress on this will be gradual and factors such as the delay to the 'Avenues' project have made streets like Sauchiehall Street less attractive to consumers.

The pub and bar sector has contracted by 20.5% over the period studied, with a similar reduction in employment.

With the cost of living biting, consumers are cutting back on trips to pubs and bars while the rate of closure for Scotland as a whole is twice that of England.

According to the report that "reflects the higher operating costs and lack of comparable business rate relief that English pubs receive", something the Scottish Licensed Trade Association and the Scottish Beer and Pub Association concur with and warn will lead to further closures.

However, there were some notable new openings including licensed premises offering activities like golf and darts, while later licenses could also bring a positive impact.

Elsewhere many restaurants have reduced opening hours due to a lack of footfall in the city centre, with competition from areas such as the West End and the South Side also a factor.

Glasgow's music scene has also seen a 21.1% contraction, the report found.

Iconic venues such as the Barrowland Ballroom and the Sub Club enjoy a global reputation, while "demand for larger live acts at the OVO Hydro continue to catalyse city visitation, accommodation and hospitality demand".

Among the recommendations of the report are discounted or eliminated public transport or parking charges on certain occasions. London offers free tube transport on occasions such as New Years' Eve which has been seen as a catalyst to spending in the city centre.

The example of free bus travel for under-22s was cited as an example, with the report saying it "has generated increased city visitation with limited economic impact".

Another example taken from London is the use of so-called 'Night Time Enterprise Zones' such as food festivals, sport festivals and later opening hours for venues.

The authors said: "Whilst many of these ideas are not new or particularly original the approach has been characterized by consultation with business owners and operators, flexible licensing, accessible and late transportation, safety and security considerations etc.

"Glasgow has to forge a unique and innovative night time economy that is characterized by radical thinking and some dynamic programming. The answer is probably already evident in our collective history.

"Glasgow has flourished when taking risks and undertaking events that changed perception of the city. Our record of success is built on radical approaches that celebrate our creative industries and heritage."

Richard Muir, Deputy Chief Executive for Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, said: “This report reinforces what we know to be true – there is a need for proactive and bold initiatives that will help to revitalise our city centre and restore our night time economy. The initial report explicitly shows the scale of the decline in the night time economy over the past 10 years, which is concerning as it’s a core part of the city centre experience and a reason why people visit.

“Of course, there is no one factor that has affected Glasgow’s night time trade, and we understand there are challenges facing the night time economy across the UK. To attract investment and increase business confidence, we need to take a holistic approach and look at the variety of ways we can drive positive change. There are interventions that could be made in Glasgow to attract visitors and enhance our competitive position.

"We are exploring these with our members and the council, working collaboratively through the City Centre Taskforce to identify and deliver initiatives that will support the city centre.”

A Glasgow City Council spokesperson said: "We are very much aware of the challenges that the night-time economy faces in Glasgow and across the UK, and we are working together with our partners on the City Centre Taskforce – with a group assembled with the specific task of helping the city’s night-time economy – to deliver actions that will support its recovery. 

"The research and recommendations within this report are useful to understanding the best ways to do this.”