To a flurry of publicity, several reports were released last Friday which claim Britain has received in the last year a significant 'bounce' from London 2012. Most prominently, the Government asserts that the economic benefit of hosting the games (which it estimates at £9.9 billion in 'new' international trade and inward investment) has already exceeded the costs of staging them (around £9.3 billion -- although others, including Parliament, claim this figure is significantly higher).
The central argument of the Government and Mayor of London that London 2012 has already "had a massive economic payback", whether true or not, may be clever short-term politics. However, it misses two key points.
Firstly, the legacy benefits could and should be generational. As Lord Coe said Friday, "this is...a 10 year journey...We're only 45 weeks into it".
Secondly, with this being the case, it is a glaring omission that the country still lacks, a year after the games, a long-term strategy to realise the full legacy ambition. This is symptomatic of what the National Audit Office (NAO) has identified as lack of "firm leadership and oversight" of the legacy project.
At present, it is the Cabinet Office providing the project's leadership, with oversight of multiple public sector organisations tasked with legacy responsibilities. However, the scale and complexity of the challenge means that this structure needs revamping -- as Lord Coe has himself now acknowledged.
Focusing specifically upon the economic and reputational legacy, what is needed to maximise success is the creation of an 'Economic Team GB'. This would bring together, in unified purpose and vision, major stakeholders from across the public, private and third sectors.
And at the heart of this approach needs to be a clear, coherent strategy, enabled by Britain's newly enhanced reputation, to ensure that the legacy becomes a springboard for success for the entire British economy. Not only individual sectors (e.g. tourism), and regions (i.e. London), which have disproportionately benefited so far.
Like the original project to host the games, this legacy strategy needs strong cross-party political support, and should look forward at least five to ten years. As such, it could also help Britain capitalise on other major sporting events, including next year's Commonwealth Games (Glasgow) and Ryder Cup (Gleneagles), the 2015 Rugby World Cup (10 English cities and Cardiff), and the 2017 World Athletics Championships (London).
For the time being, this legacy strategy will need to be Government-driven to keep momentum going. However, it will not be sufficient (as now appears to be being proposed) for it ultimately to remain a predominantly public sector initiative driven by Whitehall.
To be sure, some good public sector building blocks are already in place. For instance, the Government is in the midst of its biggest ever international marketing campaign, with some private sector support, to secure sustained increases in trade, inward investment, tourism and foreign students.
But, more is needed to maximise long-term economic and reputational legacy. Crucially, Economic Team GB must include much stronger participation from key private and third sector stakeholders, including more leading British firms and business trade groups.
One example of what is needed here is the partnership between British Airways and VisitBritain to boost in-bound tourism from a number of key emerging markets, including China and India. This 'Big British Invite' campaign features special fares on British Airways flights from these markets, alongside a marketing push from VisitBritain.
Of course, when Economics Team GB gets up and running, there will still be numerous potential obstacles (including funding, bureaucracy, and competing agendas) to realising success. However, as with the daunting project of hosting London 2012 itself, none of these issues are insuperable, as a report concluded on the lessons of the games, released earlier this year by the Institute for Government.
At the heart of success will be strong, able leadership and oversight, as the NAO and Institute of Government highlight. The Economics Team GB initiative will thus ultimately need to be led by senior officials, with clear accountabilities, from across the public, private and third sectors.
The challenges ahead are real, but if we can surmount them, Economics Team GB could play a significant and symbolic role in ensuring sustained recovery from recession. At a time of continued financial uncertainty, will we seize the opportunity in a decisive way, or let it slip through our fingers?