The Olympics: a 2.4 sq km project that will benefit the whole of the UK

by Tessa Jowell

It’s understandable that in these tough times, as the economy falters and as we hit olympic year, people are of course going to ask is all the spending on the olympics worth it, as Kevin Meagher did on Uncut recently.

It’s right too, that we ensure that the legacy promises we made in government are fulfilled: to transform the heart of east London and inspire a generation of young people through sport.

But Kevin’s polemic misses some key facts about Labour’s reasons for bringing the games to the UK and the reality of what is happening on the ground.

First, it’s just not true that most of the jobs have gone to non-UK residents. The latest figures show that 64% of workers on the olympic park are British citizens and 90% are EU citizens. Contrary to Kevin’s view that local people are not benefiting, 25% of the jobs have gone to residents of the six host boroughs, beating the target of 15% by a good margin. 82% of the olympic park workforce are paid the London living wage or over. While the Tory-Lib Dem government does its best to undermine people’s living standards, here’s one project started by Labour that is still creating social justice.

Without the olympics at this time, many of the construction workers Kevin referred to, would indeed still be unemployed. More than 44,000 people have worked on the olympic park since 2008, 10% of whom were previously unemployed. 10,000 permanent jobs have been created at the westfield shopping centre in Stratford, alongside a training facility to ensure that local residents can gain the skills needed for those jobs. When the games are over next summer, the media centre will be transformed into a business district creating jobs for years to come.

But it’s more than just the jobs that have been created in east London. Think of all the firms across Britain which have benefitted: the company in Scunthorpe which has provided the grass for the olympic stadium; the firm in Glasgow which constructed the basketball arena; the steelworkers in Neath who provided the steel for the aquatic centre. The company in Thetford, Norfolk, which has provided the grasses and plants for the landscaping of the park which has said that its olympic contract has enabled it to become one of the biggest wetland plant growers in Europe.

Over 1,500 companies have won contracts for work on the Olympics – 98% of them in the UK, and 68% of them small and medium sized at that. The benefit to businesses is £6.3bn. 90% of the suppliers of olympic merchandise are British. If this isn’t legacy in the making, I don’t know what is.

In fact, it is just this sort of injection of public investment on infrastructure, jobs and British business which could help to pave the way back to growth, and that’s why it was Labour in government that saw the benefit of bringing the games to the UK.

The olympics is not some extravagant sporting spectacle, it will leave a clear legacy of the regeneration of east London – 60 years’ worth completed in six. A legacy of 2,800 new homes, half of which will be affordable; a new school and a state of the art polyclinic.

Kevin also gets it wrong when he suggests that the £9.3bn of public money goes on a “sporting extravaganza” in any case. The costs of staging the games are borne by the London 2012 organising committee, which will pay for it almost entirely from private funds raised through sponsorship, ticketing, merchandise and media rights. The public money is what will leave the legacy of east London transformed: hugely improved transport infrastructure, new homes and the greatest new urban park in Europe for over a century.

I haven’t even covered the legacy of the games in respect of how the paralympic games will transform attitudes to disabled sport, or what the investment will do for elite and grassroots sport. It has already helped us to win the bid to host the 2017 world athletics championship when the stadium will once again be the centre of the world’s sporting attention.

Finally, it’s fashionable to scoff at the dome, but it was Europe’s second best visitor attraction at the time, and now as the O2 centre it serves as the largest entertainment district in London and joint largest indoor arena in Europe. The Olympics is an altogether more ambitious project that’s being delivered on budget, on time, and on track to see its legacy fulfilled.

Kevin should make a trip to see the Olympic park in the new year – it’s hard to deny the importance of the investment when you can see the difference it is making with your own eyes.

Tessa Jowell is the Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood and shadow cabinet minister for the olympics and London.

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10 Responses to “The Olympics: a 2.4 sq km project that will benefit the whole of the UK”

  1. swatantra says:

    Thanks Tessa. It needed to be said: The Olympics will benefit us all in the long term.

  2. swatantra says:

    … and it’ll be great to see Ken waving the flag for Britain at the Opening Ceremony instead of Boris!

  3. figurewizard says:

    Surely some mistake here? It was the government of which you were a member Ms Jowell that undermined our living standards by your reckless borrow and spend policy towards the public sector, not forgetting your catastrophic failure to regulate the banking sector, which left this country so badly exposed once the credit crunch hit home.

    As for the living standards for the worse off in our society don’t forget the 2007 budget in which Gordon Brown abolished the 10% tax band, hitting more than three million working poor and pensioners in the solar plexus, while in the next breath announcing a 2P cut in the basic rate for the better off. – All in the interests of an election that never was. I would remind you that these are exactly the sort of people who traditionally look to the Labour party for a helping hand.

    It was you Ms Jowell and the rest of them, with the honourable exception of Frank Field and a handful of others who went along with these measures without a word of warning, let alone protest.

  4. Kevin says:

    Dear Tessa,

    Thank-you for your suggestion that I visit the Olympic park to see what the public’s investment is buying.

    But that’s essentially my point: there is nothing to see anywhere else in the country because the regeneration is solely in east London. But here’s a suggestion: If I’m wrong, the perhaps LOCOG/ ODA/ DCMS/ Sport England will produce detailed plans showing how every borough in the country is benefitting from the games and we can let the general public judge?

    I’m sure the National Audit Office would welcome such clarity. As you know they produced another damning report earlier this month, with the Comptroller and Auditor General Amyas Morse warning that ‘…the likelihood that the games can still be funded within the existing £9.3bn public sector funding package is so finely balanced that there is a real risk more money will be needed…’

    The security costs have nearly doubled in a year, rising from £282m to £551m. Furthermore the NAO warned that delays associated with the Games’ transport programme has meant it was not yet possible to inform councils, business and individuals of the ‘full impact’ of the games on transport in London.

    As you know, your colleague, Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee echoed the NAO’s concerns, saying: ‘Around £9,300m of public funding has been set aside for the Olympics, but what is left in the budget for contingency is wafer thin, at only £36m.

    ‘For a project of this size, with unknown risks and eight months remaining, that is a tiny amount of money. Locog is likely to use all of its contingency funding and would also have to call on further government support if there are further cost increases.’

    So asking just how much bang we get for this not inconsiderable amount of public bucks is not really ‘polemic’ as you suggest, especially when we face the real prospect of seeing benefits for disabled people cut at the same time we end up doling out more public money on the Games.

    You say that ‘82% of the olympic park workforce are paid the London living wage or over’. I assume this means that one in every five workers is paid less than the London living wage? Can we not put pressure on contractors to pay their staff decently?

    You also say that ‘64% of workers on the olympic park are British citizens’. Again, this must mean that one in every three jobs, does not go to a British worker, reinforcing the point Diane Abbott made in her Independent piece.

    I suspect we will have to agree to disagree. Ultimately, I think investment on this scale in elite sports facilities is poor value for money, especially when there are more worthy and pressing challenges.

    Personally, I can’t think of anything more tedious than watching people a-jumpin’ a-hurlin’ or a-leapin’. I do, however, recognise I’m in a minority on this point at least!

    With all my best wishes,


  5. Les Abbey says:

    Dear Tessa

    It is amazing that you can talk of social justice without showing any shame. The thick skin that you, and some of your ex-colleagues from Blair’s cabinets, have displayed I suspect can only come about with a deep contempt for the ordinary citizens of Britain.

    It really is time you left the stage and allowed those who are untainted to put Labour back on a more righteous path.

    This comment has been edited.

  6. Phil says:

    Tessa, I could give you 100 better ways of blowing £9.3 billion than this utterly wasteful jamboree, spent in the very part of the UK (London) which needs the investment least.

    Even if you added to this vast cost by giving tickets away, and providing transport for nothing, I wouldn’t bother spending a whole day travelling from the Midlands and back to watch something which could be viewed far better on my TV, if I could be bothered. In fact, I’d much rather spend my (limited) leisure time getting some exercise of my own rather than spend 2 weeks watching others do that exercise on my behalf.

    The claim that the benefits of this project outweigh the costs to the wider UK is palpable nonsense. Shared out equally amongst the adults in the UK, the bill for my household of 4 comes to some £800. What extravagence. Would you dare to make the same claim if you were an MP for Liverpool rather than London? Even in London people are divided about its benefits, and outside of it they are positively hostile, as evidenced by recent YouGov polling. All that such claims do is reinforce the impression that Labour continues to be run by a London-based metropolitan elite.

  7. Keith says:

    Typical New Labour spin from Tessa Jowell. I suspect the real beneficiaries of this big spending jamboree will be the super rich again – who would be awarded lucrative government contracts. It’s about time the Labour party accepted that the days of big spending are over. Labour must develop a narrative based on fairness and compassion for the people who it is supposed to represent. This is especially important in this austere age when the people at the bottom will suffer most in the years to come. But, after 13 years of Brown and Blair and sucking up to the super rich there is little chance of this happening without a cleanout of the those ex-ministers who grew up on the spin mindset.

  8. Les Abbey says:

    This comment has been edited.

    A shame my previous comment was censored. I hope this was done for legal reasons rather than avoiding embarrassment.

  9. swatantra says:

    Not to worry Les, lets read it on Labourhome, the ‘alternativelabour’ site.

  10. Jon Campbell says:

    I hate sport, it’s £10b spent creating hype thats going to be a full time job trying to avoid. TVs going to be wall to bloody wall olympics.

    The only upside is that it is that the french wanted them.

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