Just as the early promise of spring in March inevitably turned into a very wet April, it seems the latest economic figures for the UK have put any signs of recovery on hold for the immediate future. But here in Dundee there are signs that the green shoots of economic growth that have been visible for some time might be about to bear fruit.
Two recent events highlight this growing sense of optimism in the city as well as changing perceptions of Dundee from the outside. The first was a meeting, hosted by Magnus Linklater the outgoing Scottish Editor of The Times, on economic regeneration. It was attended by leading figures from industry, the property sector, education and the public sector and was held, fittingly, in the Ward Room of Discovery. The cramped surroundings did not deter the palpable sense of optimism and shared vision for the future of the city. With established manufacturing companies like Michelin enjoying a renaissance, Life Sciences continuing to lead the way in Scotland and contributing around 16% of the region’s economy, and developments in digital media and computer gaming with entrepreneurial companies like Brightsolid making a big impact nationally and internationally, the city already has more than one financial leg to stand on. Add to this the new investments in support for the off-shore wind industry and the future looks increasingly bright.
All this is underpinned by the city council’s positive vision for the future development of Dundee with the plans for the central waterfront at its symbolic heart. The new sense of ambition is exemplified by the V&A at Dundee project which will be the architectural and cultural jewel in Dundee’s crown, connected to the centre of the city by the new road layout around the road bridge. There is an interesting contrast here with Edinburgh whose infamous tram project leads to continuous complaints about the disruptions to traffic and pedestrians alike, never mind the spiralling cost. Symptomatically, in Dundee there seem to be few complaints about the road works perhaps because we all see it as part of a plan that is working and that we can all feel a part of.
The second event was an economic summit conference hosted by Dundee City Council at the Apex Hotel. On arrival at the hotel I was astonished to find there were no parking spaces to be found in the car park or anywhere near the hotel. When I eventually made it into the meeting the reason became obvious as there was no seating room either, the event being oversubscribed by a factor of 2. The presentations mirrored the mood on Discovery a week earlier, but one in particular surprised me greatly. In previous economic downturns, Dundee has fared badly compared with other cities in Scotland. Statistics on employment in and around the city, which have held up remarkably well, tell a different story this time around. So the sense of optimism is backed by hard data and real impact on the people of the city.
What has all this got to do with the University? Well, almost all of the speakers at the economic summit referred to Dundee’s universities as being key to the current and future success of the city. This brings me back to a current hobby horse as we put together our strategy for the next five years. We continue to be focussed on the impact of our work on society and this idea finds its way into a new statement of our purpose as an academic institution – to transform peoples’ lives. I hope this is an idea which resonates with all our staff, students and alumni.