Raided reserves, extra staff, and lots of bunting: how did your council foot the £13m torch relay bill?

Intersport general manager Tom Foley and Next's Group Product Director Christos Angelides exchange an olympic 'torch kiss'

Intersport general manager Tom Foley and Next’s Group Product Director Christos Angelides exchange an olympic ‘torch kiss’ – photo from BBC Stoke

By Carol Miers, Juliet Ferguson and Paul Bradshaw

Funds intended for maritime festivals, economic development, council reserves and food markets were among pots which were raided to pay for torch relay bills, according to an investigation by Help Me Investigate users.

The details come from almost 100 Freedom of Information requests to local authorities by Carol Miers and Juliet Ferguson. They reveal that over £4m was spent by respondents to meet Olympic organisers’ requirements for hosting the events. If the figures are representative, the total bill across the UK could top £13m.

Now we need your help to find out more.

As councils prepare to announce severely slashed budgets for 2013, the responses paint a picture of how councils found the cash to meet the demands of organisers.

The biggest spender was Dover District Council, which spent almost a quarter of a million pounds to host the relay. Bournemouth spent over £220,000, but claimed doing so contributed a “value to the council” of £34,975. It is not clear how this figure was arrived at. Camden had previously estimated the costs of the relay at £300,000.

In stark contrast Somerset paid nothing after organisers LOCOG agreed to pay all their costs – estimated at £100,000-£315,000 – when the authority refused to sign a ‘blank cheque’. The council now claim that all correspondence with LOCOG has been destroyed “in line with good information governance practice”.

Few councils negotiated so strongly. Although LOCOG received tens of millions of pounds from sponsors to have their products associated with the relay, only a tiny fraction was given to support local councils and police forces, whose costs including traffic management for sponsors’ coaches and entertainment featuring sponsors’ acts.

In some cases LOCOG officials appear to have demanded that local authorities foot the bill for their visits: in Cambridge “miscellaneous LOCOG requests”, overnight accommodation and room hire cost the council over £4,500, while facilities for “LOCOG areas” alone added almost £11,000. And in Leicester a ‘dress rehearsal’ of the relay organised for LOCOG cost the local council over £13,000.

Raiding the funds

Strict restrictions also meant that local authorities could not raise money by selling advertising or sponsorship.

In Aberdeen, however, councillors appear to have overlooked those restrictions, and had to more than double their budget as a result – taking £45,000 from the council’s contingency fund to pay for it.

In Hartlepool money was “top-sliced” from the annual maritime festival budget. In Chesterfield a budget for arts festivals and food markets was used. In Bury £11,000 was taken from the reserves and a further £1,300 from the Leisure fund to pay for £16,000 of decorations – which made up over a quarter of the £20,000 cost for the torch’s two hour journey.

Uniquely among the authorities questioned, Bury chief executives appear to have quoted a further £10,000 for “project management” which was then to be paid back – but is still marked on the accounts as “due”.

The £150,000 difference

While Westminster incurred no cost at all, the cost of the Olympic Torch procession in Haringey came to over £150,000,

£50,000 of that was paid for from a Greater London Authority grant, but this was “to be used exclusively to purchase items from the LOCOG Look Book catalogue or London Outdoor Arts Festival.” Business Improvement Districts and landowners contributed additional money to street decoration.

The remaining £106,965 was used for stewards, signage and works.

Whereas Haringey employed a part time staff member at a cost of £12,000, and had overtime costs of £2,294, Westminster were able to allow staff to continue in their normal roles and diverted cleaning resources to cover the event.

Almost all other authorities used existing staff to cover the extra demands of the relay. The only other authority to fund a specific position was Norwich, which used their torch relay budget to fund an 18-month position at a cost of over £34,000.


Bunting – which could only be bought from one LOCOG-approved supplier – turned out to be particularly expensive, running into tens of thousands of pounds alone in Sutton, Wandsworth, Eastbourne, Bristol and Leeds.

While many London boroughs were able to apply for public funding from the Greater London Authority most outside the capital did not.

In South Ayrshire the bill for “branded materials” ran to £6,000 for every hour the torch spent in the region. In Bury banners and bunting cost over £8,000 per hour; and bunting for Corby‘s single hour was valued at £15,000.

West Devon, South Hams and Highland Council were among the authorities who refused to pay for bunting which one officer described as “extortionate”.

The devil in the detail

We’ve got the full data behind each council’s spending – but we need help to find out what funds were used, and how. If any of this piques your curiosity – or your local council is not listed here – get in touch.

Read the story of how Olympic promises were missed in our free ebook 8,000 Holes: How the 2012 Olympic Torch Relay Lost its Way.

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13 thoughts on “Raided reserves, extra staff, and lots of bunting: how did your council foot the £13m torch relay bill?

  1. Fantastic story. Many congratulations. I’d love to help you investigate further – please let me know how.

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