As I See It

BBC future; Unicorns riding high; Welcome to Glassgow

Terry MurdenBBC bouquets and brickbats

I’ve already said my piece about the need to tackle BBC excess, and I repeat here the need to put some of its operations on a more commercial footing, not least its non-broadcast output. Its websites, for instance, should be forced to compete on the same basis as others and not be afforded an unfair advantage.

In fairness to an organisation that is as much a part of British life as the monarchy and country pubs, there is a need to defend it against some of the more ridiculous demands being made about the need for reform, most notably its essential Britishness.

There is a lot of daft talk, for instance, about making BBC Scotland more Scottish and even creating a Scottish Broadcasting Corporation. This is driven in part by those misguided but influential individuals who continue to believe the BBC is biased against them. In turn this has turned into nasty and personal criticism of professional journalists. It needs to be nipped in the bud and not be allowed to taint serious discussion of the corporation’s future.

The BBC succeeds because it embraces and reflects all aspects of the United Kingdom. This also gives it a scale that enables it to operate cost efficiently to share the talents of the family of nations whether in sport, drama or current affairs.

‘Wee TV’ would be a laughably poor product which, far from improving broadcast output in Scotland, would impoverish it and rob us of the creativity and shared benefits of the larger entity. This notion of an SBC is promoted by those with a blinkered view of the world that is creeping increasingly and worryingly into Scottish public life.

The best comment made about the future of the BBC last week came from someone who said it should be switched off for a couple of months. Then we would all realise how much we missed it.

Anything you can do, we can do…too

There must have been some interesting water cooler conversations in Edinburgh’s Quartermile last week.

Two of its tenants happen to be the most exciting technology firms in Scotland and both made big international announcements within 24 hours of each other.

On Tuesday the fantasy games company FanDuel announced it had raised £176.5 million from a consortium of US investors who included some of the biggest names in private equity. The new money will help with further expansion across North America.

The following day, Skyscanner, the flight comparison site, unveiled a joint venture with Yahoo! Japan. Both companies have benefited hugely from the computer science graduates emerging from Edinburgh university which has created a corridor of IT companies in the city. A shortage of home-based venture capital is a long-standing problem, but backed by organisations such as Informatics Ventures and given a home by incubators such as Codebase, these firms are helping turn the capital into a European centre of excellence in technology.

Technically speaking FanDuel is now headquartered in New York and the funding is coming from the US.  But the beating heart of the company is Edinburgh where it all started for co-founder Northern Irishman Nigel Eccles. Talking about it on the radio last week he sounded like he still could not believe how fast the company has grown. It is expanding in the city and in Glasgow, providing a strong Scottish base for its operations.

Skyscanner’s expansion is equally remarkable, ramping up jobs and its footprint overseas. This latest move follows the opening of a second office in China.

Chief executive Gareth Williams said when he started the company 12 years ago he wanted to build Scotland’s first $1 billion internet business – a so-called ‘unicorn’. Not only has he done that, but Eccles has made it a double.

Atlantic Square, Glasgow

Welcome to Glassgow

Scotland’s biggest city takes pride in its architectural heritage: Alexander Greek Thomson and Charles Rennie Mackintosh gave it a unique place in urban design.

Now it seems to be following the example set by London by being intent on recreating itself in glass.

Glass boxes have imposed themselves on West Regent Street, St Vincent Street and Queen Street, monstrous intrusions on the streetscape. They may serve a commercial purpose but they add nothing to the visual appeal of the city.

The latest development is Atlantic Square off Argyle Street (pictured) and part of the International Financial Services District. It will comprise 265,000 sq ft of Grade A space. To that extent, it shows the economy is growing and attracting quality tenants.

However, as we approach next year’s Year of Architecture and Design it is time for someone in Glasgow City Council to stop and think about how all these glass boxes are intruding on the stone-built Victorian heritage that still provides the city with its elegant core and which attracts admiring visitors.



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