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Sports Think Tank - BRITAIN’S COUNCIL TAX PAYERS TO SUBSIDISE TORCH RELAY - Poor Planning Adds to The Cost

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BRITAIN’S COUNCIL TAX PAYERS TO SUBSIDISE TORCH RELAY - Poor Planning Adds to The Cost

Posted: Mon, 16 Apr 2012 10:17

Recent news stories* exposed how the true cost of hosting the Olympics is 2½ times (or more) higher than the oft quoted figure of £9.3 Billion, which itself is far higher than the original £2.4bn estimate. Not included in that figure is the full cost of staging the Olympic Torch Relay for which local council tax payers will be footing a sizeable chunk of the bill, in part, because of where they are forced to shop and, in part, due to bad planning which, in turn, is allowing LOCOG to generate income from local authority budgets.

The Olympic Torch Relay sets out on its journey around the UK on 19th May taking in numerous local authority areas as it passes within reach of (the organisers claim) everyone in these islands. But what a lot of those people it passes within easy reach of don't realise is that they are helping to pay for it from their council taxes. The Torch Relay is not being funded via the billions allocated to LOCOG for organising the Olympic Games; it is being funded in part by sponsors but also with a generous contribution from those local authorities hosting stages on the route.

How much of the bill is being picked up by council tax payers is not clear. Some local authorities have published figures, some haven't. Where they have the figures varied widely and where they haven't there is a feeling they are deliberately avoiding a potentially sore subject.

One local authority in response to a Freedom of Information request asking about costs and inconvenience to the public stated:

"Work is progressing to complete the planning associated with the Relay and the cost estimates requested may be available closer to the event. However even when this is completed the risks (and therefore costs) associated with the event are not readily quantifiable.

We do not expect to receive any external funding to help with the costs of the Torch Relay. The Government and the GLA have made it clear they will not fund these costs and external sponsorship is not possible due to the restrictions placed upon the event by LOCOG to protect the Olympic Sponsors."

In short, either they don't know or they aren't telling.

Where authorities have published figures they range from Bracknell's £17,000 to Poole's estimate of over £75,000 often without factoring in officer time, street cleaning and more. Add on top of that the cost of policing the relay (council tax payers contribute towards police costs) and the invisible cost of inconvenience to and interruption of business and the figure soon starts adding up.

What will infuriate council tax payers more is the inefficiency demonstrated in the planning which further squanders their money.

Being the Olympics, those places along the route will be expected to include Olympic and London 2012 branding in their street dressing. The only place they can buy the official flags, banners and bunting? You guessed it; LOCOG. Not only are LOCOG not paying for the Torch Relay, they are profiting from it.

But why does every single stop on the Torch's route need its own Olympic branding paraphernalia? In most cases these will be use once and never again items. With a little planning couldn't councils hosting on successive days have shared the cost and the banners? How many of those attending will notice if the local authorities concerned simply used local and national flags and banners? Surely the Torch procession will be well enough branded to ensure no one mistakes it for anything other than an Olympic event?

While some won't mind; not every council tax payer will be happy to hear they are landing the costs of the Torch Relay. And the lack of clear, integrated strategic planning between host councils will most certainly add to the disquiet at the final bill to council tax payers - estimated at over £5m.

*Recent news stories include:

Olympic Bill Tops £12bn (Sky News, 26th January)

Cost of the Olympics to Spiral to £24bn (Mail, 27th January)

More Public Olympic Funds Trickling Over to Games Organisers (28th February)

Alarm at Soaring Cost of the Olympics (Sky News, 9th March)

Jim Cowan (author of this blog) is a former athlete and coach who runs strategy consultancy Cowan Global who advise clients both locally and world-wide. Jim advises on strategy in all sectors including corporate, sporting, charity, local authority, voluntary sector, police and the services. He also commits time to developing, launching and managing charity events, perhaps his most well-known idea being the Race for Life. To dates Jim's charity events and ideas have raised over £1/4 Billion for good causes in the UK and Africa.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, April 2012

Read more blogs by Jim Cowan

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Tags: Olympic Torch Relay, London 2012, Council tax, LGA

Comments (3)

1. Sam said on Mon, 16 Apr 2012 11:48:

Thanks for this interesting blog Jim. It's worrying about the lack of transparency. As tax payer in Haringey myself, and knowing the torch is coming here, I do wonder if my taxes are being spent responsibly on this.

The fact that they seemingly couldn't coordinate so that the same branding materials can't be used is really not great. Would be interested to see what Local Authorities' plans for the legacy are - the Sports Think Tank will be looking into this in more depth over the coming months.

2. Jim Cowan said on Tue, 17 Apr 2012 12:42:

Hi Sam,

The picture may actually be worse than that I discuss in the article. Since writing it I have been made aware that some councils are spending even in excess of Poole's figure with Cornwall committing more than twice that amount.

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