Calls for £1/2 bn Olympic ‘underspend’ to be returned to good causes

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By Bob Duncan
 
SNP MP Pete Wishart has called for nearly £500 million of Olympic games “underspend” to be returned to the good causes from which it was originally diverted.
 
Questioning the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in the House of Commons yesterday, Mr Wishart called for the £476m Olympic contingency underspend to be returned to vulnerable groups and communities who missed out after lottery money was diverted from good causes to support London 2012.

In particular, Mr Wishart has long argued for the return of £114million in lottery money diverted away from Scottish good causes to help fund the London Olympics.

Mr Wishart said: “It is great news that the Olympics have come in under Budget, but instead of disappearing into the Treasury black hole, this money should be returned to the good causes across the UK who lost out when lottery funds were raided.

“As much as £114 million in lottery money was diverted from Scottish good causes to support London 2012, and that money should now be returned so it can benefit vulnerable groups and communities.

“With charities facing a funding downturn as a result of the UK Government’s cuts and austerity agenda, returning this money would be the right thing for the Treasury to do.”

Scotland has suffered financially as lottery funding that would have come north of the border has instead been diverted to the rich south east of England.  Around half a billion pounds that was promised in the form of contracts for Scottish businesses also never materialised.

In December it emerged that Strathclyde police were preparing to deploy a round-the-clock presence at Prestwick airport in anticipation of dangerous flights being detected by UK intelligence.  Planes thought to contain bombs or believed to be under threat from hijackers will land at Ayrshire’s Prestwick instead of London’s Stansted.  The cost of footing the police bill will fall on Scottish taxpayers.

It emerged last year that an extra £41m is to be spent on the London Olympics opening ceremony in order to bolster security.  This includes an estimated 800 Scottish police officers who will be drafted in to help their southern counterparts.  The bill for these officers will be borne by the Scottish Taxpayer at a time when the Scottish Government’s budget is being cut by the Westminster coalition.

It has more recently emerged that, unlike in London itself, the policing costs for the 8 football matches to be played in Glasgow will come out of the Strathclyde Police budget and not the official Games’ budget.

Hopes of a tourist “dividend” were dashed when VisitScotland chief executive Malcolm Roughhead said that he has given up on visitors coming to Scotland before or after a trip to the London Olympics.  Mr Roughhead said there was little evidence to suggest many people would “tag on” a trip to Scotland, despite earlier hopes that Olympic Games crowds would flock to events like Edinburgh’s festivals.

The European Tour Operators Association warned that it has seen a 95 per cent downturn in bookings from members – more than half of whom offer visits to Scotland – in July and August due to a shortage of accommodation in London.

“Initially, people thought that we were going to get people coming here before or after they have gone to the Olympics, but that does not appear to be happening.  I don’t think it is realistic to expect that.  People are going to fly into London and fly back out again.  We are instead looking at people who want to get out of London or are put off going on holiday there.”

Earlier this year, Scottish sports minister Stewart Maxwell MSP said the cost of the London Olympics had risen “substantially” and Scotland was losing £150m of lottery funding to fill that “black hole” in funding.
 
He said: “We have made it very clear that we think that £150m should be returned to Scotland.  It is lottery money which should go to good causes in Scotland and we don’t believe it should fund the London Olympics.
 
“We think that is an unfair charge on Scotland. We have made a case to the UK government in London and we are still awaiting a response.”
 
He added: “The big difference between the London Olympics and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games is that the Glasgow games are completely funded in Scotland.  The Scottish taxpayer, the government, the city council are all paying for that.”
 
“The London Olympics are not just being paid for by the UK government or the people of London, they are asking the people of Glasgow, Edinburgh, the Shetland Isles, Dundee, to contribute, not just through their taxes, but also losing lottery money as well.”

Estimates of Scottish Lottery bodies direct contributions to the 2012 Olympics based on Scotland’s share of the various UK good causes are:

  • £73 million from the BIG lottery fund in Scotland  
  • £18 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund
  • £13 million from Sport-Scotland
  • £12.5 million from the Scottish Arts Council
  • £1.8 million from Scottish Screen

Hugh Robertson MP, UK Minister of State for Culture, Media & Sport, said in reply to a parliamentary question from Mr Wishart, “I do not want to get into discussions about how we might spend a putative underspend until we have actually delivered it.  The key thing is to make sure we deliver these games on time and substantially under budget.”