The action may be in London next August, but the West Midlands is also well placed to reap real Olympic benefit.
In less than a year’s time the eyes of the world will be upon London, as the capital city plays host to the 2012 Olympic Games. The cream of the world’s athletes and many thousands of overseas visitors will come together to bear witness to unforgettable drama and excitement. An estimated global TV audience of four billion viewers will tune in to the opening ceremony. While headlines about cost and the contribution of the taxpayer have followed the Olympic story since day one, it should also be recognised that the opportunity to host ‘mega-events’such as the Olympic Games brings with it economic, cultural and sporting stimulus for the UK and its regions, including the West Midlands.
The prowess demonstrated on the running track, in the pool or in the gymnastic hall will undoubtedly deliver thrilling moments that will live long in the collective memory. However, away from competition itself, the many number of significant business and cultural activities leading up to the start of the Games – and the predicted legacy after the visitors have returned home - are expected to have a profound and long- lasting impact.Once the Olympics were awarded to London on that memorable day in Singapore back in 2005, it started aprocess of increased opportunity for large and small UK businesses to get involved in tendering for the many and diverse contracts associated with the Games, its infrastructure and the services it would require. It also presented a ‘once-ina-lifetime’ opportunity for our tourism industry to showcase Britain’s attractions, and enabled the proposed community benefit of the major urban regeneration scheme for one of the most deprived parts of London to get off the drawing board and become a reality.
In broad terms, statistics tell part of the story. Lloyds TSB estimates that the 2012 Games will generate £10 billion in revenue for the British economy, while revenues from tourists travelling to the UK for both the main Games and the Paralympic Games are forecast to add an additional £2.1 billion to the national coffers, according to the London Councils 2012 Team.
However, away from the headline figures, the Games themselves and other such ‘mega-events’ contribute to society in many ways – creating opportunity that would not have otherwise have existed. Peter Robinson, Principal Lecturer and Head of Leisure at the University of Wolverhampton highlights how the West Midlands has set its sights on making the most of the ‘Olympic effect’. “Huge events such as the Olympic Games can have significant economic, social and political impact because of their size, profile and cost associations. Large events traditionally tend to be primarily concerned with the legacy after the event, but the Olympics are different. The highly structured build-up to the games over a seven year period ensures that, for example, plenty of opportunities exist for businesses targeting the mammoth construction programme put in place prior to the Games, before any legacy objectives are considered. While it is easy to view the build up to the London Olympics as something that concerns only the local population, the Games’ influence extends far beyond its geographical confines and can act as a real catalyst for far reaching and long term legacy benefits elsewhere.
“The West Midlands as a region identified the Olympics as an opportunity to leverage such impact to its own advantage. The creation and delivery of the West Midlands Olympic Action Plan, involving a number of public sector stakeholders and businesses, is a proactive, planned and strategic approach to ensure the region too benefits. It concentrates across a number of key areas, including sporting participation, culture, tourism, regional image, volunteering and equality and diversity. Under these broad headings, a raft of ongoing local initiatives, cultural events and long-term programmes have been implemented to build momentum and to hopefully become established elements of an ongoing legacy for the region in future years - helping to attract tourist spend, boost local employment and encourage inward investment.
“The Action Plan is also focussing upon key areas that will support a business-orientated legacy for the region.Promoting employment and employment skills, helping secure business opportunities to encourage more regional entrepreneurship and business development, and raising the profile of volunteering across the West Midlands as a proven method of developing skills and increasing employment prospects, are the primary and strategically important areas identified in the Action Plan which can hopefully deliver longer-term payback to the region.
“The West Midlands has already benefited in real terms from the Games. In the preparation phase, some £400 million of tenders have been awarded to West Midlands’ firms, thereby having a direct impact upon local jobs and potential future business development. The leisure and hospitality industry is expected to benefit directly from the Games as people take advantage of the short travel time to London from Birmingham and the region’s hotels are expecting brisk trade over the next 12 months.
“In addition, the estimated £2 million worth of ‘free advertising’ the West Midlands will secure – in what, in effect is a month-long global TV advert for Britain – is set to raise the region’s profile. It will help communicate key messages about the area’s excellent transport and business links to the capital, the acknowledged local cultural strengths and diversity, and the availability of a skilled workforce. Such a combination will, in time, hope to encourage increasing numbers of visiting tourists to contribute economically to the region, employees to perceive the West Midlands as a great place to work and live, and business leaders to consider moving their operations to take advantage of the strengths the area can offer when compared to London and the South East.”
The events in London next August may overshadow all else, but in the background strategic plans are being executed by many regional stakeholders to ensure that in the lead up to the Games – and in its aftermath – the West Midlands, its population and its business community capitalise on the opportunities, momentum and legacy benefits the London 2012 Olympic Games will generate.