START-UP businesses will get their rent and rates paid for up to four years in a bid to kick-start Glasgow's economy.

Gordon Matheson, leader of Glasgow City Council, will formally announce the move today as he unveils a blueprint for pulling Glasgow out of recession.

The Labour councillor, who along with the rest of us is facing the worst economic downturn in generations, wants to see small firms find the space they need to flourish.

He said: "Small businesses tell me that they are struggling to access affordable business premises, and that the cost of rent stops people from starting their own companies.

"We have listened to these concerns and we will act.

"Today, I am delighted to announce the establishment of the Glasgow New Business Fund. This will allow new-starts to get fin- ancial support from the council which will see us pay all, or part, of their rent and rates for up to four years."

The fund will be worth £1.5million a year - a relatively small sum.

And the Evening Times understands firms will have to come up with workable business plans before they can access the money.

However, business insiders stress getting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) off the ground – the kind of firms that account for most jobs – will have a disproportionate impact on the economy.

Glasgow has numerous empty shops and offices, not least in the city centre, and some could end up playing a role in the scheme.

The city has also championed ESpark, a scheme that provides embryonic businesses with support.

Glasgow Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stuart Patrick said: "This is a clever proposal which builds on the work of ESpark whilst recognising the opportunity to help bring underutilised older office space in the city back into productive use."

Council bosses have been previously attacked for rising vacancies on the high street and for focusing their energies on the prestigious Style Mile of Buchanan Street while neglecting traditional city centre neighbourhoods.

Glasgow – which has heavily developed retail and leisure since the de-industrialisation of the 1980s – could be seen as being exposed to continuing low consumer confidence.

Mr Matheson, meanwhile, said he was determined not to repeat the mistakes of the 80s, when a generation of Clydeside workers found themselves on the dole.

Speaking at the 15th annual City Economy Conference at the Radisson Blu Hotel, he said: "I have a responsibility to ensure that, as a city, we are best placed to respond to the opportunities that arise, not only today, but in the future. The decisions we take today will determine what Glasgow looks like in 10 or 15 years.

"I am absolutely clearthat Glasgow must be positioned at the front of the queue to benefit from the opportunities of economic recovery."

"We will drive forward capital investment. We will invest in skills and training, and we will ensure that Glasgow is ready for business."

The new fund is just one of several initiatives. Another is the £25m Glasgow Guarantee, which brings to- gether the Commonwealth Apprenticeship Initiative, the Commonwealth Graduate Fund and the Commonwealth Jobs Fund, and which aims to ensure every Glaswegian between the age of 16 and 24 has access to a job or training.

Mr Matheson said: "We've made clear from the outset of this recession that we won't allow another generation of young people to be cast adrift, as they were in the 1980s.

"I am delighted to announce that from today, we complete our £25m Glasgow Guarantee to fight youth unemployment in the city. The Commonwealth Youth Fund goes live at noon today, providing employers with a 50% wage subsidy and targeted training to help 16 and 17 year olds get ready for work.

"My administration will not lose sight of what needs to be done to give our city's young people the opportunities they deserve.

"We are making a difference."

Mr Matheson also stressed the important of the Common- wealth Games to the city's construction industry.

He said: "Our investment in the infrastructure for the 2014 Games has already transformed the East End. And we are using the bid for the 2018 Youth Olympics to transform Sighthill in the north of the city.

"Best of all, the £250m investment in Sighthill will go ahead, regardless of the bid's chances of success. That kind of legacy is unparalleled."

He added: "We were elected on a manifesto pledge to build 3500 homes over the next five years. We also vowed to rebuild or refurbish every primary school. Not only will this benefit children across Glasgow, this major capital investment will provide significant benefits to the local economy."

GLASGOW today became the first council in Britain to sign up to a Green Champions scheme run by tycoon Sir Willie Haughey, left.

Gordon Matheson said his local authority will employ 20 young men and women as environmental experts whose job it is to cut heating and energy costs.

Sir Willie's scheme has already been backed by numerous other tycoons and is based on the idea that what a young person earns pays their way as bills are cut.