A piece of history

Written by Kate Shannon on 12 November 2014 in Interviews

Chief executive of Glasgow City Council, George Black, is set to retire at the end of the year

 

Without a doubt, when looking back at George Black’s career, the Commonwealth Games feature very heavily. Taking on the chief executive role in 2003, the council decided to bid for the Games just months into his tenure. While the wheels were already in motion by the time he got the job, the Games have been there throughout his career.

“The bidding, planning and the delivery of the Games has been with me all my time as chief executive so it has in many ways defined that part of my career,” he said.

Black has been with Glasgow City Council - and its predecessor before the current local government structure took effect - for more than 20 years. Before his move to the city, the qualified accountant worked for the Hydro Electric Board and several other councils.

Speaking to Holyrood, he added: “For anyone to come into public service in any organisation and have the opportunity to be involved in the Commonwealth Games, it is a privilege. All the planning and preparations had gone very well for the Games but that in itself doesn’t guarantee you will deliver what were called the best ever games. Everybody involved and every organisation really stepped up to the mark and all pulled together during that period. 

“We also had good luck with the weather at the start of the Games, which gave everyone a morale lift. We all had our heads down, getting on with it but at that point when the heat wave started, everyone involved thought it could be something special and so it proved to be. A comment which was made to me was that it was like being on holiday in your own city.

“Glasgow defined something new by having legacy in place before the Games, rather than simply after. The fact that all the venues were complete a year in advance and they were being used locally meant you had a fan base for local clubs mingling with those attending the Games. This has been really fantastic for the membership of Glasgow Life and attendance at these venues. 

“Glasgow defined something new by having legacy in place before the Games, rather than simply after.

“In all the works which were taking place, there was a huge number of capital infrastructure works carried out over the period, we had community benefit clauses in place which allowed for apprenticeships and local employment.

“A big legacy was also the engagement of local businesses. We set up a business portal which allowed something like 22,000 businesses to register. All the contracts were then placed on that portal which allowed small businesses, who might not win the big contracts, to still be the sub-contractors or suppliers below that. That portal and way of working was actually then used for the new Southern General Hospital, although that’s nothing to do with the Games, but it was the methodology and it was highly successful.”
However, according to Black, one of the biggest legacies for the city has been its excellent reputation on the world stage. “It puts you on a higher platform than the city was before and opens up opportunities which weren’t necessarily there before,” he added.

“It defines the period I’ve been chief executive. It was Bridget McConnell who first raised the idea with me in 2003/04, so I don’t take credit for the idea but certainly in terms of bidding. It has been a privilege being there for the whole of the period.”

As he prepares to step down, Black is also keen to highlight the other major project this year, the city deal between the Glasgow and Clyde Valley councils, the UK Government and the Scottish Government. 

He said: “One of the elements of that is an infrastructure programme of £1.13 billion. Coming out of the Commonwealth Games and people asking ‘what next?’, there’s already an answer for them. We’ve now got firm plans for further investment in infrastructure over the next 10 years. Having this programme in place will help to sell the city to companies and investors who want to move into the city because they’ll be able to take confidence from the investment which is guaranteed to take place. In a normal year, that city deal would have dominated the agenda but it came at the same time as the Commonwealth Games.”

The city deal will fund major infrastructure projects, drive innovation and growth through the support of key sectors such as life sciences, and address challenges in the region’s labour market. These projects will allow a programme of work which will greatly add to the value of the local economy over the next 20 years. 

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