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Modern Times: 1950s to The Present Day

Learning and Beliefs

IT Revolution

By Irene Maver

Glasgow in the 1950s, in a bid to improve living standards and diversify the industrial base, was a city dominated by social and economic planning. Information and communications technology was still in its infancy, but the way forward was recognised in 1961 when Sir John Toothill (1908-1986) headed a Government commissioned enquiry into the state of the Scottish economy. New science-based industries were intended to create employment opportunities and modernise the older sectors, with the computer, in particular, seen as a key aid to efficiency. To build the necessary technical skills, education became a priority, which was one reason why Glasgow's Royal College of Science and Technology became the University of Strathclyde in 1964.

A period of active inward investment, notably by US multinationals, boosted Scotland's high-tech electronics industry, although the companies generally located outside Glasgow, on greenfield sites in New Towns like East Kilbride. The phenomenon of "Silicon Glen" was established across Scotland's central belt by the 1980s; so-called because the area aimed to emulate "Silicon Valley" in northern California, where the thriving US computer industry was concentrated. The wider Glasgow conurbation benefited enormously in terms of manufacturing output; in 1988 Strathclyde Region exported £2 billion worth of computer and office machinery, mostly to Europe. The downside was that the electronics sector was high in productivity but relatively low in job creation. The city of Glasgow, with its contracting manufacturing base, did not significantly benefit in employment terms.

Yet as the 1990s progressed, the IT revolution radically re-orientated work opportunities. This was symbolised by the high proportion of call and contact centres that were established in Glasgow, where both the public sector and private companies could conduct transactions with their customers either by telephone or via the Internet. While many users complain that this has fostered a depersonalised approach to service provision, the sector remains a growth area, especially in spheres such as banking, insurance and travel. On the other hand, the inadequacy of home-grown research and development in IT has been identified by the Scottish Executive and Scottish Enterprise as a continuing problem for Glasgow. That was why in 2003 they created Intermediary Technology Institutes (ITIs) with a £450 million investment over ten years. The Glasgow-based ITI focuses on digital and media communications and the long-term aim is to unite the research and corporate sectors in enhancing local expertise and connecting with key overseas markets.

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