It seems a shame to whinge about the Olympic Games after one of the most successful sporting summers in British history. But when politicians make promises they must be held to account if those promises fail to materialise. And the promises made after London successfully bid to stage the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games were lavish indeed, not so much for the sporting triumphs we might enjoy as a nation but the business boost hosting the Games would provide, even in far flung regions like the Westcountry.
In the event the success of our sportsmen and women was almost off the scale. The atmosphere at both the Olympics and Paralympics was sensational and the warm glow has percolated throughout the nation, reviving national self-confidence and earning Britain much needed kudos around the world. At last, some believe, we can throw off the stigma of being a nation that has largely failed at sport since the 1966 World Cup victory and bask in the glory of a truly brilliant Games.
Sadly, however, the same cannot be said for the business benefits. Bringing the Games to Britain was going to earn us £6.5 billion, it was said. Although it was accepted the lion's share of the profits would be made in London, the Westcountry, it was confidently predicted, would share in the bounty. This was not, we were assured, going to be just an international sporting event on the most massive scale but an opportunity for ordinary companies to share in a boost to their profits on a significant scale.
Yet as a survey just out reveals, more than 90% of businesses in the South West – which includes Weymouth and Portland, where the sailing events were held – did not benefit in the slightest from the Games. Of the businesses that did see a return, the majority were larger companies and mostly in London and the South East. The Olympic 'bounce' had lost what little spring it had by the time it came to our region.
This is not wholly surprising. An Olympic Games in a recession was always going to be a challenge for business. While the Games helped us to take our minds off financial woes they were not, and were never going to be, an opportunity to cash in. Put simply, the cash is simply not available and even it were, for most ordinary companies in a region like the Westcountry, the Olympics and Paralympics are not a vehicle for making money.
That ought not to be a problem. And if the predictions from ministers involved in bringing the Games to London had not been so upbeat, it would not be. Ministers – and they were Labour ministers who made the promises, but all parties are culpable – can learn a valuable lesson here: if you do not over-promise you will not under-deliver. In most respects the Games were an unmitigated triumph, even though politicians were, quite rightly, shy of hoping for too much. In a business sense they went too far – and simply failed to deliver.