Since my last column on the subject of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, there have been a number of stories in the press regarding the possible impact of the global economic crisis on their success. Some of these stories appear to have a grain of truth behind them, others seem more fanciful.
I think it is clear that if the economic downturn is sustained, it will impact upon the games. There will be less money to spend by the Government and possibly less sponsorship available from the private companies, however the Olympic brand is so strong I am confident advertising revenues will remain relatively high.
My job, and the job of the Government, is to ensure that we live up to the promise made to the International Olympic Committee when we made our bid, that “by staging the Games in this part of the city, the most enduring legacy of the Games will be the regeneration of an entire community for the direct benefit of everyone who lives there”.
We need to make sure that the money spent on the Olympics does regenerate our area and is not simply spent on a four week festival of sport, however enjoyable and prestigious that month might be.
Last week there was a debate in Parliament to discuss this legacy. The debate demonstrated a real division in Parliament, with the ongoing struggle between those who want the Games to be produced as cheaply as possible and those, like me, who believe the Olympics constitute a once in a lifetime opportunity to regenerate our part of London.
We have already seen some benefits. The power-lines that crisscrossed the site have been buried underground. The polluted ground is being remediated, and the Bow Back Rivers are being cleaned up and made habitable by wildlife and for leisurely walks, and usable for boats and barges. Improvements to our local transport networks, like the DLR extension to Stratford, are gathering pace (excuse the pun).
Our community is one of the less well-off in London and, due to the high cost of living in London, our borough is one of the least well-off in the country. The regeneration that is being brought to Stratford, in part by the Olympic and Paralympic Games, is long-deserved and desperately needed.
The Government and Olympic Delivery Authority have worked hard to balance the budget and the government is right to be mindful of the need for responsible spending, particularly at a time of financial difficulty. With the UK suffering the effects of the global economic crisis, I accept that the budget may have to be reviewed, along with the layout of the Olympic Park and Venues. But this review must be balanced.
As a London taxpayer, I want the budget managed properly but I also want to see Newham gaining as a community from the money spent on the event, the buildings and park left behind after the event, and the jobs created for, during and after the Games on the site and around it. A Games that fails to benefit us will be a wasted opportunity.