We need an ‘Economics Team GB’ to secure London 2012 legacy

September 11, 2012

–Andrew Hammond is an Associate Partner at ReputationInc, and was formerly a UK Government Special Adviser, and Senior Consultant at Oxford Analytica. The opinions expressed are his own.–

With the Paralympics now concluded, the curtain has come down on a remarkable London 2012 and Diamond Jubilee Summer that has more than delivered on the “like no other” tagline given to it. Now, significant, urgent effort is required so that the once-in-a-generation opportunity for meaningful economic and reputational legacy is not lost – we need an ‘Economics Team GB’.

The simple fact is that a majority of nations fail to fully capitalise upon hosting the Olympics and Paralympics.

Reputationally, countries sometimes prosper — as was the case with Australia post-Sydney 2000 and Spain post-Barcelona 1992.  However, one only has to recall legacy images of abandoned and underused new-build Athens 2004 sports stadia, whose inflated cost helped contribute to Greece’s unsustainable public sector debt, to appreciate that countries do not always get this right.

Economically, numerous studies have indicated that ‘legacy-driven’ growth is often over-hyped.  Citibank, for instance, found that in 9 of the last 10 Summer games, GDP tended to rise in host nations in the run-up to the event, but then recede in the two quarters afterwards.

To help buck this apparent economic trend for host nations, which for Britain is a real possibility given the pre-London 2012 ‘double dip’ recession, we must seek to capitalise on our enhanced global reputation, and boost key drivers of growth like exports, foreign investment, and tourism, to help kick-start the economy.

This mission can be initially Government-led, but ultimately requires bringing together all major British stakeholders from across the diversity of the public, private and third sectors.

Fortunately, we don’t have to start from scratch as some building blocks are in place.

VisitBritain (the national tourism agency) is in the midst of its biggest ever international tourism campaign; and UK Trade and Investment (which works with UK businesses to help ensure success in international markets, and encourages overseas companies to look to invest in the UK) hosted its biggest ever programme of events during the Olympics to help secure new business deals.

An ambitious, cross-departmental Government marketing campaign is underway that seeks to refresh international perceptions of Britain as amongst the top places in the world to visit, live, work, study and do business.  The programme is built upon key pillars of British global excellence, many of which were highlighted in the opening Olympic ceremony: technology and innovation, creativity, music and sport.

These public sector initiatives, which have been aligned with the Olympics, and the earlier Diamond Jubilee, are a good foundation-stone and have brought some immediate dividends like new foreign investment deals, but endeavours must be sustained well beyond the next few months, and
there are numerous potential obstacles (funding, bureaucracy, competing visions and agendas).

Economics Team GB could yet emulate our Olympic and Paralympic sportsmen and women and deliver significant success for Britain.  At a time of continued economic uncertainty, will we try to seize the opportunity in a decisive way, or let it slip through our fingers?

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