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Was the London Olympics another economic own goal for the stricken UK economy?

That’s a bit unsporting isn’t it?

As the UK enjoys the Paralympics in the wake of the London Olympics it looks as though the much hoped-for boost to the UK economy hasn’t happened, or has been delayed anyway.

Figures from the British Retail Consortium show that retail spending was up a modest 1.6 per cent in August, less than the year as a whole and far lower than the rate of inflation which remains stubbornly over three per cent.

The chief drag on spending was a fall in online sales to just a 4.6 per cent increase compared to the year’s average of 11.6 per cent.

Conclusion? The nation was glued to its (non-commercial BBC) television screens watching Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah, Usain Bolt and the like rather than hitting the shops or their keyboards.

It’s all rather like the double bank holiday at the start of the summer when the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations (it rained if you remember) were blamed for turfing the UK economy back into recession as output fell.

And the Olympics cost a mind-boggling £11.3bn for, essentially, two weeks of sporting celebration (four if you count the Paralympics). Had this money been divided up and dropped by helicopter on the UK’s 55m population we probably wouldn’t have had a recession at all.

That’s it then, another own goal?

The Olympics did give the nation (or most of it, Frankie Boyle and a few others excepted) a shot in the arm, albeit an expensive one. But how long will the feelgood factor last? Not very long if current prognoses for the economy prove correct.

And the ‘legacy’? Some affordable (we hope) housing in East London, the Stratford City Westfield shopping centre (which obviously has done well during the Games) and a number of state-of-the-art sports stadia which we hope will find further uses. Yet the coalition government is likely to cut spending on sport as it seeks desperately to balance the nation’s books. Education secretary Michael Gove is still busily selling off school sports fields, despite official noises to the contrary.

But surely the Olympics and Paralympics are great PR for the UK? Yes, but £11.3bn is a hell of a PR budget. The only comparison I can think of is the Abu Dhabi-ites’ £1bn investment (and rising) in Manchester City, but that gives them heavyweight TV exposure for years to come and somebody else will probably buy the club off them if and when they tire of the beautiful game.

Will more foreign investors dive into Britain following its good showing at the Games? Let’s hope so, or we’ll never see any of the money.

The Olympics (and the Paralympics too, although we could do with a bit more of the Baron de Coubertin spirit from some of the competitors) were magnificent. But in the tough old real world may turn out to be magnificent folly.

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Baron Coubertin Jessica Ennis london olympics manchester city Michael Gove paralympics retail sales uk economy £11.3bn cost

About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.
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