It's over. After28 days of professional sport, in thirty-four venues, with 46 sports and 15,000 athletes, the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games finally waved goodbye to their infatuated foster parents and headed off to Rio, the Brazilian capital city, where they will convene again in four years' time.
There is much to reflect upon; the near immaculate delivery of the two largest sporting events on the planet; the embrace with which the country held the Games, with record ticket sales, television audiences and overwhelming support for athletes of all nations; the dawning realisation by an adoring public that this country remains one of the greatest in the world.
Yet, as the lights came down on the final day of the 'greatest show on earth', I was left asking the uncomfortable question - what next for this great nation?
It has to be said that the Games have offered something of a distraction from the current plight of our economy. Negative growth for five consecutive quarters, zero net growth over two years, negative net growth in four; yes, unemployment is falling for now, but inflation is again proving stubborn and while business confidence is on the increase, investment is most certainly not. The Eurozone crisis, far from being close to resolution, is reaching breaking point and all the signs point toward a global slowdown remarkably similar to that before the demise of Lehman Brothers in 2008.
Worse still, both the Conservative-led Government and the Bank of England no longer have a full arsenal of weapons from which to draw as they did in 2008. If this isn't our 'rock bottom', we had better hope that we are not far from it.
Thus, rather than tinkering round the edges, the Government, the Opposition and the Bank of England should all be drawing lessons from Britain's life-changing Olympic and Paralympic experience. It was never enough for the Paralympic athletes to merely recover from their horrific experiences; they wanted to compete with the best in the World.
We in Britain need bold thinkers and brave leaders, of the kind our Victorian ancestors were blessed with, to step to the fore and envision a future for this country. Not merely a future of lower debt and a balanced budget, but one of prosperity and competitiveness, not just in sport, but in business, science and technology.
In order to achieve this, we face a number of fundamental challenges. A chronic lack of airport capacity, aging rail infrastructure, crumbling schools and hospitals, poor rail connectivity and congested roads to name but a few. The single most fundamental challenge we face however, is a lack of housing. House prices have risen ninety-four per cent in the last ten years according to the National Housing Federation and, according to the economist, are twenty per cent overvalued. First time buyers are thus unable to purchase a home at an affordable cost and the cost and quality of private rented accommodation is, respectively, excessive and poor as a consequence.
Britain has, however, a unique opportunity presented to it, ironically by our present predicament. The cost of borrowing for the UK Government is at historically low levels; if you adjust for inflation, even on ten year bonds, the real interest rate is negative.
This means that even an investment that yields a mere 5% will pay for itself. The opportunities made possible by this fact are too good to miss and could be used to address many of Britain's fundamental weaknesses, at a far lower cost than would be possible in the future.
It is right to rein in the structural deficit, but it is wrong to rein in capital investment, as Britain's Chancellor, George Osborne has, to the tune of some £25billion, at a time when real interest rates on UK Government debt are negative. Contrary to Mr Osborne's now familiar platitude, debt does not spook markets if it is affordable, unsustainable deficits do. In other words, markets will not panic if the UK can afford its debt repayments, but they will if it is seen to be unable to control its spending.
Thus, investment in infrastructure, funded by UK Government debt is easily affordable, will provide a short-to-medium-term economic boost and, crucially, will allow us to build an economic future by design, not dictation.
This future must take into account the fact that the UK economy, much like its Paralympic athletes, enters the global competition with a handicap; as an island nation of only sixty million population, depleted raw materials and the fourth highest average wage in the World, the UK has an immediate competitive disadvantage when compared with the majority of its major rivals.
Here, the Government can learn from our inspiring Paralympians, who themselves have largely benefitted from targeted public money. Our economy is handicapped by the cost of living, specifically the cost of a home, the cost of travel and the cost of energy. Thus, ambitious measures to tackle these 'fixed costs', such as a massive house-building programme, substantial investment in aviation, rail and roads and significant investment in alternative fuels/energy sources are all highly appropriate candidates for debt -financed investment.
Only by delivering a world-class infrastructure for the next generation and thus reducing UK household's 'fixed costs' and improving businesses productivity, can we hope to be competing in the same space as the likes of the US, China, India and Brazil in fifty years' time.
So, rather than embarking solely on 'pre-distribution', which adversely impacts upon competitiveness, we could achieve similar social goals by actively reducing the cost of living in this country, which stands to benefit both the population as a whole and the Government's welfare bill.
And so to the final lesson to be learned from these Olympic and Paralympic Games; while the initial costs of such grand projects may indeed be eye-wateringly high, the long term benefits (and the short-term confidence boost) will more than repay the initial investment.
Who's up for Rio 2016?
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