At least two councils hosting parts of the Olympic torch relay have not been able to buy official bunting from organisers LOCOG because of high prices – while the cost of bunting in a third local authority was quoted at five times that of road closures and stewarding equipment combined.
Both Highland Council and Iver Parish Council decided they could not justify the cost of the branded bunting, which has to be bought from the Olympic organising committee LOCOG.
Writing about the costs falling upon local authorities for hosting the relay, Jim Cowan argues that LOCOG’s monopoly on bunting has created an extra burden on councils when they can ill afford it:
“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.”
A quote from the minutes of a meeting at Iver Parish Council gives the costs at “£37 for a pack of 5 flags and £90 for 5 x 20 m of bunting.” It adds: “There are specific guidelines where the ‘Official Look’ Olympic decorations can be erected”. The council later decided not to purchase the bunting from LOCOG “due to the cost of the decorations, cost of installation and problem of knowing the best location for it throughout the parish.”
And at Highland Council an events officer spoke about the “extortionate” cost of bunting offered to local authorities to decorate the route, and the lack of financial support given to local authorities by organisers.
In an interview with the Citizen Relay team, Gerry Reynolds explained:
“[We were not given any bunting to decorate the route]; we were given the opportunity to buy it. Places that decorated the city, they spent fortunes – it was extortionate…
“We obviously have to think of this in terms of [the fact that] it’s three or four hours in the life of the city. We couldn’t afford it. It’s a very expensive operation for councils to run, so no [we didn't pay for the bunting]. We got some Coca Cola stuff put up at the last moment and obviously they can afford to brand things. But it’s very disappointing how much councils had to absorb from my perspective.
“I would have liked LOCOG to have paid for the relay; I would have liked money to stay in my community but we did our best but, like every event, you can spend a fortune but we had to make some very hard decisions.”
Corby Council did receive bunting from LOCOG - £15,000′s worth. In return the council was “obligated … to providing a big screen; the cost for the big screen for two days is £2,810. Northamptonshire County Council has agreed to fund 50% of this cost.” With total estimated costs to cover road closures and equipment for stewarding of approximately £3,000, this meant the bunting – or at least the value quoted by LOCOG – was more expensive than any other element of the torch’s one hour journey through the town.
There are few figures currently available for the total cost to local authorities of hosting the torch relay, which is worth millions to the organisers in sponsorship revenue (estimated at $5-15m for each main sponsor at the previous Olympic games). But Jim Cowan adds some detail on areas where local authorities are footing the bill for the relay:
“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. (Update 14 April: I have now been advised the true figures are actually much higher, for example at close to £160,000, Cornwall are spending more than double the figure stated by Poole).
In Aberdeen councillors more than doubled their spend on the relay when they voted to cover an extra £45,000 of relay-related costs. Plans to cover costs through sponsorship were scuppered by LOCOG restrictions. Responding to an FOI request on relay-related costs, Tower Hamlets also mention the same problem:
“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 a response to one FOI request, Camden Council estimated the costs of the torch relay alone at £300,000. Shepway District Council allocated £25,000 for “first aid provision, barriers, portaloos, cones, high-vis vests, etc.” Officer time costs were not included.
The impact of these costs is hard to quantify, but in Chesterfield costs are being met from the balance of the festival budget normally used to fund other events in the town such as arts festivals and food markets.
Further investigation provides other details about the costs of buying bunting from the Olympics organisation committee LOCOG:
- The “London 2012 Games Community Celebration Pack” is marketed at £99+VAT for two 15-metre bunting strings, one banner, and 50 hand flags.
- Sutton Council was given £50,000 from the GLA to spend on bunting and “other Olympic themed displays” from LOCOG, which were criticised by a local councillor as “boring”
- The GLA appear to have offered similar funding to London boroughs generally.
- Sevenoaks District Council’s Community and Planning Services Director reported late last year that:
”LOCOG has put together a London 2012 “Look” which includes bunting, banners, flags and other bespoke Look items that work together to form a coherent identity for the London 2012 Olympics, Paralympics and Torch Relay. Local councils and other organisations are not permitted to create their own materials for these events. Only District, Borough, Unitary and County Councils can order materials from the “Look Book”.
“Under the terms of the contracts signed … there is an opportunity for the District Council to dress the District using official LOCOG materials.”
UPDATE: Dave Harte points out the funds requested from wards in Birmingham: Soho were asked for £5,000 and voted to pay £3,000 (page 4); Ladywood were also asked for £5,000 and voted to pay £2,000 (page 4), and Nechells were asked for £2,500 but said they were “unable to support” (page 7).
If you want to investigate further locally, or have other details of the process, please get in touch.