I’m going to be on the BBC News tonight, at some point around 9pm, debating the legacy of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games with Ian Sinclair, who has had a great deal to say about the negative impacts of the Olympics in East London. I take the view that 2012 is making a hugely significant contribution to the development of the city and that its impacts are, broadly speaking, positive, even if it may be many years before they are fully felt. I wrote about this in my blog for the Metro newspaper recently and I’ve copied the article below…
At a time when the Government is regularly criticized for cutting spending and not investing in big projects to get the economy moving, why are people so angry about the billions being spent on the Olympics?
Ever since the Government first announced its intentions to cut public spending on a scale scarcely anyone had thought possible, the cry from the opposition and campaigners has been for the government to spend.
These cries make good sense; invest now in big infrastructure projects, create jobs in construction and manufacturing, prop up areas suffering worst from the effects of the economic crisis.
Another set of demands; invest in sustainable development, in young people, in culture and sport, and invest in long-term projects that leave a lasting legacy.
The money that has been spent on the development of the Olympic Park in Stratford meets these criteria and should be seen as the one shining example of where this otherwise spendthrift government is doing exactly what its critics says it should: spending big.
Celebrate the fact that the government is actually spending some money where it is needed
The total cost to the taxpayer of staging the Olympics will probably end up somewhere between 12-15billion. That money has been spent over seven years and hasn’t really been affected by the public spending cuts.
That money has directly created thousands of jobs and, indirectly, tens of thousands more. The excuse of a few weeks of sport has allowed successive governments to transform the fortunes of a part of east London that has suffered from multiple deprivations for a generation.
Infrastructure developments on this scale always leave victims. If it were possible to create projects that didn’t involve forced evictions, that didn’t create opportunities for a sometimes greedy private sector and that didn’t cause political controversy, then someone would have worked that out by now. But whether it’s a bridge, an airport, a bypass, a conference centre or a mega-event, investments of global significance can never be politically neutral.
It is the job of governments to make the case for their spending and to satisfy the public that they really will benefit from it. Successive governments haven’t won that argument.
But we pay taxes every day for services and projects that some of us will never use like schools, pensions, social services and defense. Add the Olympics to that list, think about the benefits that it can deliver, and celebrate the fact that the government is actually spending some money where it is needed.