An overwhelming majority of Londoners are now in agreement that the 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympics were a resounding success. Danny Boyle choreographed an astounding Opening Ceremony, enthusiastic volunteers brought the city to life, and Team GB won medals in a plethora of (not just the ‘sitting-down’) sports.
However, the short term economic gain to the Capital seems to have been negligible. This should have come as no surprise. Stefan Szmanski, Sport Economist at the University of Michigan, recently explained to the FT that no credible academic study into large sporting events has ever shown a material benefit to the local economy – indeed most create “an economic burden”.
This theory seems to have been corroborated by the facts. 2012 saw a drop in visitors to London from the historic average of 300,000 to 100,000 over the days of the Olympic Period, and although there was some boost to the economy it fell well short of expectations.
We were told that long term economic growth was the real aim. Consecutive governments promised a ‘legacy’, as they spent £9.3 billion of public funds. At the beginning of July 2012, David Cameron told the public: "I'm confident that we can derive over £13bn of benefit to the UK economy over the next four years as a result of hosting these Games". He broke this figure down into £6bn of investment from overseas, £4bn of contracts for UK firms and £2.3bn of revenue from an upsurge in tourism. So, in the wake of this leviathan sporting event, the question has become not what London did for the Olympics, but what the Olympics will now do for London.
The regeneration of East London is the most obvious symbol of Olympic Legacy. The athletes' village has seen the building of 2,800 homes, which are to be joined by a further 8,000 new homes, offices, shops, schools, nurseries and health centres over the next 20 years. This should in turn see the creation of 8,000 new jobs. Stratford Station will serve as a nine-line hub for this new community once Crossrail has arrived. Clive Dutton, Newham Council’s Executive Director for Regeneration, explained to the FT that “The momentum of the Olympics has accelerated the area’s infrastructure plans by 20 years. It’s turbocharged it”.
Jobs have also been promised for this new community. iCity has now been selected to develop new uses for the Olympic Press and Broadcast Centre. Their Chief Executive, Gavin Poole, has promised a further “6,500 jobs in the local communities” and the addition of “£460million to the national economy”.
Only time will tell what effect the 2012 games will have on the future of tourism in London. It fell in Sydney after their games and made no impact at all in Greece. However, Heather Hancock, lead London 2012 Partner at Deloitte, told the BBC that this was due to a failure to “capitalise on the Games”. The British government has recently launched a £125 million campaign - its largest ever - targeting 14 of the world’s largest cities, with an aim to increase visitors to the UK by 4.6 million; which they say will create a further 70,000 jobs.
A new private industry is also set to emerge as we export so called “Olympic Gypsies”. British consultants will now join the ranks of Greeks, Chinese and Australians who already consult on Olympic Games around the world.
One might have thought that £9.3 billion of public spending would trigger some economic growth, but the question is whether - in what the government describes as “an age of austerity” - the growth is proportionate to the spending. This further begs the question of whether those funds could have been better used.
The legacy concept has also provoked some scepticism from financial forecasters.. After conducting a study of the previous 10 Olympics, Citybank concluded that all major economic benefit is realised prior to the Games, due to the infrastructural work done. Spencer Dale, Chief Economist at the Bank of England, seemed to agree with this position when he told AFP that the Olympics would have no “material impact” in their predictions.
Many people question the idea of a ‘turbocharged regeneration’ and the so called ‘goal of convergence’ - to bring the living standard in the Olympic boroughs up to the London average by 2030 - and it has been suggested that these aims are unrealistic. The Legacy Corporation’s insistence that the Olympic Park venues will all run without public subsidy has also been brought into sharp focus by a London Assembly committee report, which openly claimed that “maintaining these venues will require an ongoing call on public money”.
The stranglehold which the London Olympic Organisers (‘LOCOG’) have been allowed to place on the very businesses that made the Olympics possible is however probably the point which has caused the most controversy in the Legacy debate. In the interest of protecting the exclusive marketing rights of its sponsors LOCOG forced all 75,000 plus contractors and subcontractors to sign up to the “no marketing rights suppliers’ protocol”.
In the build up to the Olympics this meant that the LOCOG branding team prohibited construction contractors from using any branding on site. Their ardent enforcement of this protocol escalated to a point where LOCOG’s lawyers wrote to ODA demanding that where the manufacturer’s name, ‘Corus’, appeared next to the Kite mark on any of the steelwork it must be removed or covered. The demand was later retracted, but only after it was shown that the name could not be seen from any angle.
Enforcement intensified over the Olympic period; but perhaps more shockingly it will continue to gag contractors for a further 12 years. Until 2024 the 75,000 contributing businesses will be unable to market their successes with any more than a reference in small print: moreover these references may only occur on websites and pitch or tender documents (provided that the client list does not exceed nine).
In conclusion, economic trends would suggest that London has seen the best of its Olympics. The UK injected a vast capital sum into a fantastic regeneration programme and a two week international advertising campaign. If we are now to reap the planned £13bn benefit of our labours then Lord Coe, the newly appointed ‘Legacy Ambassador’ and others like him, must keep the Olympic momentum going, rather than let it be stifled by bad planning and restrictive contracts.