Legacy delivery was at the heart of the UK’s 2005 bid for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics and was widely thought to have tilted the voting in London’s favour.
In addition to the sporting legacy, the government put great sway on the Games helping to spawn economic regeneration, and jobs and skills in some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the country. The hope is that this will remain long after the athletes and officials have packed up and gone home.
For the Olympics to be judged an economic success, many new and sustainable jobs will have to be created in the London Borough of Newham, in whose heart the Olympic Park lies, and in the other six Olympic boroughs. The other Olympic boroughs are Barking and Dagenham, Greenwich, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.
Jane Sherwood, Newham’s head of economic regeneration, says that assessing the impact of the Games on future employment is “really hard to work out”. Take Westfield Stratford, a huge new shopping centre right at the heart of the borough, which opened in September last year. As Sherwood points out, Westfield was planned even before the Olympics was thought of, begging the question “do you call it an Olympics economic development or not?”
Sherwood suggests that because it successfully opened in the current economic climate when many other similar projects were not, it should be considered part of the Olympic legacy. “It is a judgement call,” she says, adding “I believe that the Olympics has kept the momentum going.”
The past is not always a good indicator of the future, of course, but Sherwood is optimistic. “There are lots of indications that investment will continue after the Games,” she says. Among these are further developments planned at Westfield itself, the transformation of the Athletes’ Village into permanent housing, as well as the development of the Olympic Park. According to Newham’s ‘Local Economic Assessment 2010 to 2027’, published before Westfield was opened, Stratford City alone has the potential to create more than 34,000 jobs in retail, commercial & office, and hotel & leisure.
These are all part of a programme of long-term public investment in regeneration initially for the Games, but with the objective of creating the right conditions for the private sector to build new homes and to create new jobs. Other areas, where further development is planned are the Royal Docks enterprise zone, London City Airport and Stratford’s Cultural Quarter.
Dr John Philpott, chief economic adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), says that when assessing the potential legacy of the Games, “the key issue is not just how many jobs are created, but how many jobs are created that wouldn’t have been created”. He accepts this is difficult to judge. “I suspect that probably the biggest potential impact of the Olympics is whether the Olympic Park and surrounds are used for sustainable retail development, or perhaps more business outlets, and the possibility of new opportunities at the Games media centre, that kind of thing.”
Already a number of sustainable jobs have been confirmed. Under terms agreed on two 10-year contracts to run facilities in the Olympic Park after the Games, around 250 jobs are expected including more than 80 apprenticeships.
Further good news is expected shortly on the future of the Olympic media centre, which has been earmarked as an employment hub.
While many of the jobs so far generated by the Olympics have been relatively low paid and low skilled, attempts are also being made to bring more high-skilled jobs, such as in technology into the area. As part of this drive, there are plans are to shift the focus of London’s new high-tech hub at Silicon Roundabout, currently based around Old Street in the City, further East, says Sherwood.
Electronics giant Siemens’ new global Centre of Competence for Cities is expected to create 50 jobs, as well as acting as “a catalyst to attract further technology companies to East London”, says a spokesperson for the company.
In a wider context, Philpott points to the potential that the “big jamboree” effect of the Olympics has to showcase the UK as a good place to invest. “I think overall the Olympics is a big thing in terms of national prestige, but I think it would be a mistake to over blow its long-run economic consequences,” he says.
Much effort has been made to ensure that local people, and particularly those perceived to be disadvantaged in the labour market, have benefited from the jobs generated by the Games. For example, suppliers to the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) were expected to meet targets on ethnicity.
John Lewis worked with the London Borough of Newham and Seetec, a training provider to provide a pre-employment course aimed at helping unemployed people get jobs at the new Westfield store. This resulted in 250 local people, who had previously been unemployed, being hired.
The Centre for Innovation and Partnership at Newham College works with local unemployed people, helping them prepare for interviews, for example, and referring them to the council’s job brokerage service Workplace. Over the last five years Workplace has placed more than 12,000 local people into work. While the majority of jobs are entry-level, Andrew Mitchell, business development manager at the centre, says a legacy is already being created as previously unemployed people begin to progress into more senior, typically supervisory roles.
That said, Sherwood accepts that many of the jobs currently being created are temporary in nature and largely dependent on the estimated 300,000 visitors and spectators who are expected to descend on the area during the Games.
However, she believes that the experience through this temporary work will have longer-term benefits for those involved. “Three months’ experience working in a flagship retail centre [Westfield] is really significant and useful, and it begins to give people some confidence in themselves, and that is what is so important for them to go on and compete. It is very unlikely they would have got experience on that scale, without something like the Olympics.”
Mumtaz Bashir headed up the pre-volunteer programme for the Games, aimed at encouraging people who wouldn’t have volunteered “because they don’t feel they have the relevant skills and experience”. Bashir says one legacy will be these people’s higher self-esteem. This in turn will enhance their chances of future employment, she says.
Of course, the Olympics is not just a London event, and among the other Olympic venue is Weymouth, where the sailing is due to take place. Ian Doyle, economic regeneration manager, Weymouth, Portland and West Dorset, says the Olympics “could be a fantastic catalyst” for the area. With money from LOCOG as well as from other sources, he says the Olympics represents an opportunity for the area to move beyond its core strengths of tourism and into other sectors, such as the creative industries and renewable energy. The introduction of broadband before the Olympics is “a real selling point” for businesses that are considering setting up in the area, he says.
It is uncertain that the London Olympics and Paralympics will meet its economic legacy expectations and transform the employment landscape of huge swathes of East London. One hurdle is that today’s general economic backdrop is less favourable than before the 2008 downturn.
However, they have given a kick-start and a momentum to regeneration and development that might not have happened at all, or only happened many years down the line.
As Newham’s Sherwood says: “It is not realistic to expect that just having the Olympics is going to completely change everything. It is not fairy dust, it is not a magic solution — it’s a catalyst. And because it is happening within a regeneration area in the middle of a city where things are happening anyway, we are in a much better position [than previous Olympics venues] to deliver an Olympic legacy.”
One other certainty is that, just like winning a gold medal at the Olympics themselves, securing the London Games economic legacy will take a long time and a lot of hard work.
DeeDee Doke contributed to this report
“Jobs are my top priority, and the 2012 Games have the power to deliver a real economic and jobs boost to all parts of London”
What has been the legacy of previous Games?
Looking at the previous Olympic hosts Atlanta (1996) and Barcelona (1992), as well as the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games, the picture is broadly positive.
Professor Ferran Brunet of the Autonomous University of Barcelona has for a number of years been studying the impact of the Games on Barcelona. According to Brunet, “not only did Barcelona react to the Games, it succeeded in maintaining the growth generated on a scale never seen before”.
Indeed, not only did unemployment fall from an all-time high of 128,000 in November 1986, when Barcelona was announced as the winning city, to 61,000 by July 1992 during the Games. In the years immediately following it rose again by 21,000 but then fell back below the July 1992 level, staying there for a number of years.
Brunet writes: “The investment generated by the Games provided a soft mattress, breaking the fall in the context of a general depression. Barcelona’s economy proved resistant to the widespread depression and, after 1994, once again began to create employment.
Andy Hirst, managing director Cambridge Policy consultants, has evaluated the impact of the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games.
Hirst estimates that the Games generated around 16,000 10-year equivalent jobs. However, he says that the long-term legacy continues to be felt. In particular, he says the publicity surrounding the Games put Manchester on the map. One aspect was a boost to the city’s “wider visitor economy” such as the growth of Manchester as a conference centre, says Hirst. “Once you get yourself on the international circuit you can market yourself on a different scale,” he says.
Dr Harvey K Newman, professor and chair of the Department of Public Management and Policy, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University, says that the main benefit of the Olympics for Atlanta, venue for the 1996 Games, was that it was “a powerful magnet for economic development and acted as showcase to come and invest in the city”.
Catering and hospitality did particularly well, says Newman, and the ‘Olympics effect’ lasted a number of years after the athletes returned home.
According to Newman, Atlanta continued to build hotels “at a feverish rate” for four years after the Games ended, doubling the number of hotel rooms from 50,000 10 years earlier. Newman estimates that each new hotel room generates one new job. In the wake of the Games, Atlanta has developed as a major tourist and convention centre.
Sam Burne James contributed to this article