CALIFORNIA... HERE WE COME
I really thought I had cracked it when a letter arrived in December 1978 from Mr Norman Eckersley, chairman of The Chartered Bank of London's American operation in California.
Mr Eckersley said he had read about my plan to promote Glasgow to the world and attract more investment and offered to help me in the Western States of America. His bank was in the final stages of completing the largest foreign cash investment in the United States by the purchase of the Union Bank of California for $400 million and they would then have 65 branches throughout the State. All of these would be at our disposal.
Understandably I got quite excited about Mr Eckersley's offer and immediately reported to it Steve Hamilton, the town clerk and chief executive, and the political hierarchy. This was attracting attention to the city at a time when it really needed it. Unemployment was very high and the city's economy was in the doldrums. Help to attract inward investment and create more jobs was just what we were looking for.
Mr Eckersley's letter told me he had personal connections with Glasgow and still had a house there. He said he was a regular visitor to Glasgow and would call in to see me next time he was there. It turned out that Mr Eckersley had once worked in Glasgow, his wife Ena was born there, and he had a strong affection for Scotland. He was also a keen football fan and used to phone Glasgow from America to get the result of Rangers' matches.
The banker later wrote to tell me when he would be in the city and with the agreement of the council I arranged a press conference at which he would announce his offer to help us. He told the enormous number of news media people who turned up that he would give Glasgow free use of his bank's marketing, public relations, and promotions departments, an office, reference facilities, and support staff in Los Angeles and San Francicso.
All Glasgow had to do was appoint a "super salesman" to stay in California for a year or two and sell the city's merits to the influential and very wealthy American business community in "Silicon Valley" and beyond.
The following day the headlines in local and national newspapers read, MR MONEYBAGS. Banker wants to pour money into Glasgow...... SCOTS HEAD OF U.S. BANKING GROUP HAS MASTER PLAN TO AID GLASGOW.
The plan had the blessing of the Scottish Development Agency, the Scottish Economic Planning Department and Glasgow Chamber of Commerce. When Mr Eckersley went back to California he wrote to confirm that our main competitor in the race for inward investment was Ireland as it offered very considerble incentives and had virtually unrestricted powers to offer whatever was necessary to persuade the Americans. He added that it was worth looking at the incentives given to Texas Instruments to change their location from Irvine to Dublin.
A great many discussions between the various organisations took place and the Chamber of Commerce finally identified a suitable candidate to be our "super-salesman" in California, Mr Hugh Laughland, a former director of Scottish and Universal Investments Limited. Unfortunately Mr Laughland wasn't interested in the job and the search began again.
Advertisements appeared in the Financial Times and several other newspapers in January 1980 seeking someone with "an outstanding record of innovative business management coupled with marketing flair, administrative ability, and a thorough and up-to-date knowledge of Scottish industry."
A hundred people applied and three months later the £22,000 a year job, plus generous expenses, went to Mr Edward Brodie, deputy chairman and managing director of Insight Business Systems, a company in the Black and Edgington Group in Greenock. Eddie had an impressive professional background and confidence. I recall being mildly irritated at his interview when he leaned nonchalantly back in his chair and wedged his knee on the edge of the desk separating him from his interviewers.
Eddie didn't want to talk to the press about his appointment as he took the view that he had nothing to tell them until he had done something positive in the job, which was reasonable enough, but I pointed out that the whole of Scotland, and farther, was interested in what we were doing and there was no way he could avoid talking to the press. Besides, it was vital to us to have the press on our side.
Eddie finally agreed and this time we had headlines like SUPERMAN BRODIE.......OUR VOICE IN AMERICA....THE PRIMING OF MR EDWARD BRODIE.....GLASGOW PICKS ITS SUPER SALESMAN.
A leader in the Glasgow Evening Times said, Glasgow gets a bargain in Edward Brodie, off to California to persuade Americans to invest here, buy from Scotland, and give us jobs. We have a distinguished representative. All we have to do now is show willing to deliver at this end and a gold rush in reverse is ours for the taking.
Unfortunately the gold rush never materialised. Eddie duly went to America and shared an office with Mr Jim Reid of the Scottish Development Agency in the Chartered Bank building in San Francisco. Naturally we were anxious back at the ranch to know what he was doing and Eddie sent us regular reports. In his first three months he introduced himself to a great many business people and to nearly 20 chambers of commerce in the West Coast of America. He also joined golf clubs and various organisations where he could meet the Californian movers and shakers.
A few months later he suggested a Glasgow Week in San Fransisco at which we could show the Californians just what the city had to offer. I wrote to Steve Hamilton to say it was a good idea but would cost a great deal of money and suggested instead that a party headed by the Lord Provost and Leader of the Council should go to California and talk to people at first hand, demonstrating our serious commitment to the city's interests and showing the Americans that Brodie had full political support for what he was trying to do, although he was 6,000 miles away from his political masters.
More discussions followed and in January 1981 an impressive delegation flew to America. The members included Lord Provost Michael Kelly, Council Leader Jean McFadden, Steve Hamilton, Remo Verrico, City Estates Surveyor, Mr Forbes Macpherson, president of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, and Mr George Heaney, deputy president of the chamber and former head of General Motors in Scotland. Sir Samuel Curran, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Strathclyde University and one of Scotland's leading scientists, joined the mission later at his own expense.
Sir William Gray, a former Lord Provost and the man who had worked hard to try to persuade the government to relocate Civil Service departments to Glasgow in the early 1970s, said in an article in the Glasgow Herald that our competitors (mainly Ireland) were prepared to invest "to the extent of the cost of the visit (which turned out to be about £10,000) to get just one job."
Before we set off Norman Eckersley told me, "You won't come back immediately with brief cases bulging with contracts, but you will be able to bring home to the industrialists of California that Scotland is ready and able to give them the things they need to expand their operations in Europe any time they are ready."
I devised a plan to publicise our expedition in Californian newspapers and radio and television stations and arranged for Lord Provost Kelly to give a regular report to Radio Clyde on how we were doing. Scottish Television gave me some film clips of Glasgow to show to the Americans.
We spent nine days in California, did a round trip of 14,000 miles and took in 16 cities in California, Washington State, Utah and Arizona in which different members of the party met about 250 people from 100 organisations and companies. We were given enthusiastic and courteous welcomes by everyone. Norman Eckersley described the mission as the most important of its kind ever carried out in America by a single Scottish city.
At a lunch hosted by San Francisco Chamber of Commerce we were all asked to make a brief speech introducing ourselves. I told the gathering in a mock American accent. "I am very happy to be in your wunnerful country, Canada, home of your famous baseball team the Oakland Raiders." The members of my party nearly had a fit. Apart from not being in Canada the Oakland Raiders is an American football team, not baseball, and they had recently beaten the Philadelphia Raiders in the Superbowl, America's equivalent of the cup final.
I went on in a normal voice to explain, "I've been waiting 30 years to get my own back on an American audience. When I was a young reporter I used to interview your film and stage stars who came to Glasgow and most of them told me how happy they were to be in England!" The audience of business leaders applauded enthusiastically.
Most of our contacts in America were with people in electronics manufacturing but we also met people in the oil industry, tourism, real estate developers, investors and bankers. We answered questions about the availability of sites, labour relations, labour skills, education standards at schools, technical colleges, and universities, financial incentives, taxation, housing, transportation, communications, productivity, conference facilities, tourism and local government.
Although we could offer the Americans a skilled and experienced work force, high educational standards in colleges and universities, first class road, rail and air communications, we couldn't compete with the kind of financial incentives and tax concessions the Irish government and the Irish Development Agency were offering. Nor could the Americans get from us any concessions in rates or corporation tax. National government left it to the city to offer what we could and it just wasn't enough.
Ireland and other competitors were also able to offer green field sites, something else we didn't have. America's modern high-tech industries didn't want an old warehouse to convert or a derelict site to build on. They wanted the kind of environment that Compaq, one of the world's biggest computer companies, were later able to acquire at Bishopton, near Glasgow, a site surrounded by pleasant green fields and the gently flowing river Clyde.
When we came back the news media in Scotland were impatient at the fact that we could not list half a dozen American companies which had made a commitment to us to set up shop in Glasgow and its immediate environs as a result of our mission. In fact we were able to boast about nothing at all, apart from our exhaustive tour of the West Coast of America.
Eddie Brodie came back to Scotland at his own request after about 18 months because, he said, the campaign had been so successful he felt his place was back in Glasgow helping American firms as they arrived and providing a power base from which they could operate. Unfortunely no-one came. Councillor McFadden said the establishment of Locate in Scotland, an offshoot of the Government-funded Scottish Development Agency, made it unnecessary for Eddie to stay in America. Brodie, now living in retirement in Spain, agrees that we were outmanoeuvred by the Irish.
It is interesting to note that Locate in Scotland, now part of the Government-funded Scottish Enterprise, was involved in the decision in September 1994 of the Japanese electronics NEC corporation to build a second factory at Livingston at enormous cost.
Their decision was based on a favourable financial package from the British government and the skill and productivity of the Scottish workforce. Glasgow had that skilled and productive workforce in 1981, too, but not the support of the government.
Our California project cost the council almost £200,000. It began to sour when newspaper stories appeared about the £75,000 expenses Eddie Brodie had incurred. These seemed rather excessive to people like local newsmen and provincial politicians who didn't have the difficult task of impressing American entrepreneurs. They included items like £14,000 for entertaining contacts, £15,000 for domestic expenses, club membership fees of £7,500, and £850 for dictionaries. From what I saw of the Americans it would have taken a lot more than £75,000 to impress them.
The Controller of Audit, Local Authority Accounts, later criticised the council's accounting procedures because there was no adequate supporting documentation for the expenditure of £52,000. The controller emphasised that he was not criticising Mr Brodie himself. The council's answer was that receipts were provided where available but in the United States receipts were not always issued by hotels, restaurants, and airlines where payments were made by cheque or credit card.
Forbes Macpherson, now Chairman of Glasgow Development Agency, told me in September 1994, "I think the lesson I learned is that it takes a long time and constant contact to persuade international companies to make major investments. Our one-off visit generated goodwill but was not sustained enough to focus their decisions." All of which would seem to indicate that the mission was a failure but who is to say that somewhere along the line we did not sow seeds which eventually resulted in companies like Compaq (Bishopton) Amphenol (Greenock) ATS Medical Limited (Glasgow) Methode Electronics (Dumbarton) and other American high-tech companies coming to the West of Scotland. One thing we did do was to enhance the city's image by demonstrating that we were imaginative and adventurous.
The visit to America was by no means the only move to attract investment and create jobs. At the end of 1980 Glasgow had almost 60,000 unemployed, the highest figure for a decade and more than 10,000 people had lost their jobs in the 12 months to May 1980 because of closures and redundancies in the city.
The city council set up an Economic Development Bureau and a special sub-committee on employment to create jobs, stimulate business enterprises, and safeguard existing employment. Members of the sub-committee included representatives of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce and the Scottish Trades Union Congress. All this is now the province of the Economic Regeneration Unit.
The Local Government and Planning Act of 1982 forbade an individual city like Glasgow from promoting itself overseas or organising promotional missions abroad. Strathclyde Regional Council could do it with the permission of the Secretary of State for Scotland and the regional council could invite Glasgow to take part but the city would still have to have the permission of the Secretary of State. The only people who could do overseas promotion without the express permission of the Secretary of State was Locate in Scotland, which made it very difficult for Glasgow to promote itself and improve its economy.
In March 1982 more than 1500 key industrialists and financiers at home and overseas were invited to a promotion Why Not Belong to Glasgow in London's Holiday Inn Hotel in Hyde Park. The promotion coincided with the monthly council meeting of the Confederation of British Industry and many representatives of Britain's major companies were invited to come and talk to us about opportunities in Glasgow. Regrettably none of them took advantage of these opportunities, whatever they were.
In an effort to help business in the city the council resolved deliberately to discriminate where possible in favour of Glasgow companies in buying goods and services. This policy was killed by the Local Government Act of 1988 which decreed it was anti-competitive and in conflict with European Economic Commmunity policies.
In 1989 the council spent £26,000 on a feature on Glasgow in FORBES, one of American's most influential business magazines, in collaboration with the Scottish Development Agency or its offshoot Glasgow Action. More than 700 enquiries were received from the presidents, vice-presidents and chairman of major American companies but not a lot came of that either. Information packs on the city were sent to them all. A video film with sound tracks in German, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Italian and French was also produced and widely distributed but it would be difficult to quantify the result of this either.
One way in which the council gets round strangling Government regulations is through twinnings with various cities abroad, Rostov-on-Don, Dalian in China, Turin and Nuremberg, although what effect these twinnings have on the economy of Glasgow is very difficult to determine. In my experience the foreigners invariably wanted to sell us their products but were not at all anxious to buy anything from us.
In the years since the city twinned with Dalian in 1987 I have read many stories about groups of Chinese coming to Glasgow with untold riches which they were prepared to spend here but if these delegations ever bought anything from us I have not seen muich about it in the public prints. It is true that Weirs of Cathcart have been trading successfully with China for two decades but they didn't need a twinning arrangement to achieve this.
Sir Horace Phillips, who went to China as a business consultant for Taylor Woodrow after a distinguished career as a diplomat, refers in his autobiography Envoy Extraordinary published in 1995 to the Chinese propensity for squeezing all they could out of their foreign partners in any joint venture while themselves putting in a minimum.
And as for the city's friendship link with Bethlehem, this was established at the instigation of the supporters of the West of Scotland Friends of Palestine in the City Chambers only to irritate Israel and its supporters and could not possibly be of any benefit to Glasgow.