Tonight, Newham in east London will welcome the world to the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Billions of people will watch Danny Boyle’s vision light up this corner of the capital as we celebrate everything that is good about modern Britain.
I wish all the members of Team GB the very best. However, as mayor of the main host borough I am more concerned by what happens once the medals have been awarded and the athletes have gone home. London won the Games on a promise of legacy. One of the two key elements of that legacy was increased sports for young people across the UK. It is not entirely clear to me how this will be delivered given government cutbacks to sport in schools. I don’t think it’s clear to the government either.
The other key promise was that the Games would regenerate the East End, an area where for over a hundred years embedded poverty has meant people have had worse life chances than people elsewhere in the capital. Ending that injustice is the real prize. But it won’t happen by chance. In Newham we’ve fought to make sure local people really benefit from the Games.
Legacy goes hand-in-hand with our vision to make Newham a more resilient community, one where people have the skills to succeed and overcome challenges, where strong communities make it easier for individuals to achieve and where people have genuine economic independence. In an area with one of the lowest employment rates in the country legacy means people in work.
The construction, planning and delivery of the Games have all created jobs for local people. But, much more significantly, the Olympics have also acted as a catalyst for further investment and regeneration – including encouraging Westfield to bring forward the building of the largest shopping centre in Europe by some years.
Investment alone doesn’t regenerate an area or guarantee local people will get the jobs created. In London’s globally competitive jobs market, local people, including the long-term unemployed, facing international competition, can compete but they do need extra help to build skills and to get them in front of employers.
That’s why we invest £5m a year into a jobs brokerage called Workplace to help local people get access to the opportunities that are opening up. We got 5,000 people into work last year, half of them long-term unemployed. When we send out CVs from residents two per cent get jobs. But, when we work with the employer to understand what they want and then present that applicant properly, 50 per cent get jobs. We can match the international competition but we need our people to be seen by employers. This is an issue well understood by the leadership. Ed Miliband saw it for himself when he visited Workplace recently, causing me to reflect how good it would be, at this difficult time, to have a government in touch with the real issues. Of the people who get jobs through Workplace, 75 per cent are still in work a year later, testament to the work we do with our people. Compare our success with the much-publicised failure of east London work programme provider A4E.
It was the group of Host Boroughs, which I chair, that called for the creation of the Olympic Park Legacy Company, now the London Legacy Development Company. Under Margaret Ford’s excellent leadership it played an important role in developing a legacy for the park (supported by others including Hazel Blears and Tessa Jowell). Newham will be joint owners of the stadium. We’ve invested money, not just because we think there is a financial return, but to ensure that the stadium will work for local residents.
Much of what is being delivered will have been won and fought for by local councils. It is local government that has the knowledge and partnerships to make a real impact on behalf of local people.
And it doesn’t have to be local government with a direct stake in the Olympics. Look at our partnership with Barnsley. Under the leadership of Councillor Steve Houghton we have seen Barnsley schools visiting Newham and the Olympic site generating an Olympics legacy far from east London.
Given the massive commitment from public funds to deliver the Olympics it would be revolting if the legacy described in the original bid book was not delivered. Labour started the process and, by and large, the delivery of the Games has been a good example of cross-party working. However, the legacy envisioned is at risk. Why, for example, does Newham have a cut in government grant last year of £160 per person and Richmond a cut of just £6 per person?
It is one thing to talk blithely about legacy it is quite another to deliver it. We’ve already done more at this stage than at any other modern Games. But to continue delivering will be a challenge – a challenge which will only be won by the Labour Host Boroughs continuing to deliver on our vision against the continuing cynical assaults by a government which has no interest in legacy.
Robin Wales is mayor of Newham
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