GLASGOW is famous for many things.
As the Second City of the Empire, heavy industry is synonymous with our heritage; as a UNESCO recognised City of Music our city is widely acknowledged to have given an immense soundtrack to the world; and as the home of the world-famous crispy roll our city is renowned for its culinary prowess.
You may think that the crispy roll shouldn’t feature alongside industrial heritage and cultural prowess on the list of Glasgow’s greatest achievements but, judging by the outpouring of dismay that followed the news of the sudden collapse of Mortons Rolls in Drumchapel, tens of thousands of Glaswegians would profoundly disagree.
The outpouring of emotion at the news of its impending demise demonstrated just how important this business is to Glasgow, the community of Drumchapel and most importantly, to the workers impacted by its closure.
As those workers began to come to terms with the devastating realisation that they faced unemployment and an uncertain future, attention started to shift towards what could be done to save the business and its iconic product whilst preserving as many jobs as possible.
Given the importance of Mortons Rolls to Glasgow’s identity as well as its economy, I was eager to ensure that it didn’t disappear in the same way as other industrial icons have done.
That was a fate that recently befell the St Rollox ‘Caley’ Railway Works in Springburn and the McVitie’s biscuit factory in Tollcross. Mortons could not be allowed to become another lost cause.
The business has been a feature of Glasgow’s industrial landscape and popular culture since 1965, even featuring in Bill Forsyth’s 1979 classic comedy film That Sinking Feeling. Whilst it isn’t the only business that has suffered in recent years due to a turbulent and inflationary economic environment, I am delighted that it has been successfully saved from liquidation.
That eleventh-hour rescue will be a source of relief to the 110 workers that have been brought back to work in the Allerdyce Road bakery, and I know that there is a desire from the new owners to expand the workforce and reinstate the full complement of 230 workers employed there prior to its collapse.
My role was to ensure the new investors had sufficient confidence to commit the funding necessary to restart production, by securing commitments that government support would be forthcoming should they need it.
I acted urgently to facilitate discussions with government officials and secured guarantees from the First Minister, then Nicola Sturgeon, that the Government would do everything in its power to ensure Mortons Rolls could survive and subsequently thrive.
While those discussions were undoubtedly productive and ultimately paved the way for the rescue of Mortons, it exposed a glaring fragility and a fundamental weakness that exists at the heart of Scotland’s economic model.
That weakness is this – we wait for calamity to occur before we act.
For years, I and many others have been pushing the Government to implement an industrial strategy that puts our industries and their workers at its heart.
That industrial strategy has yet to be produced. Instead, we have a government bureaucracy that is still passively dependent on Foreign Direct Investment and paralysed by a reluctance to implement a coherent plan that ensures Scotland’s industries have the investment of sufficient scale to become more productive and remain competitive.
The inertia that exists at the heart of government means we will continue to watch the decline of industries that could and should be thriving. It is clear to see wherever you look, and the worst part is it doesn’t have to be that way.
I was heavily involved in the Rally Roon The Caley campaign in 2019 that sought to save the last remaining railway works in Springburn from closure by its German owner, in a community that once built thousands of locomotives that were sent around the world. Our calls to save the works fell on deaf ears, with the Government saying it would only intervene if a potential buyer was to come forward.
The consequence? ScotRail, Scotland’s publicly owned train operator, now sends its trains to England and Wales for maintenance that could be done in Glasgow and, if done in Springburn, would have sustained the works and kept hundreds employed.
Shipbuilding is another obvious example. For decades, a lack of long-term strategy has meant Scotland’s shipyards have been subjected to a feast or famine order cycle with no certainty and no continuity hampering investment.
At present we have two ferries, commissioned by the government-owned agency CMAL, to be built at the government-owned shipyard, Ferguson’s in Port Glasgow. The problem is the Government waited for calamity to occur, used the awarding of the contracts and the nationalisation of the yard as a political football, and the financial fallout is still being felt to this day.
The true tragedy in all of this is that it is entirely avoidable, but to rectify it will require a fundamental overhaul of government thinking. With a proactive industrial strategy, the Caley would have been saved and the expensive fiasco at Ferguson’s could have been avoided.
Thankfully Mortons Rolls has gone against the grain, but it will still need government support to invest in modernisation if it is to survive in the longer term.
Our new First Minister has the opportunity to reinvent and reinvigorate the way that they interact with industry. It is long overdue and would be warmly welcome.
Our economy is run by accountants not economists and that has held back our potential prosperity for far too long.
You can read my column on the Glasgow Times website here:Morton Rolls crisis shows we wait for calamity before we act | Glasgow Times