David Sproul: British business is already an Olympics winner, but that's just the start of it

Midweek View: Since London won the right to host the Games, every subsequent Olympic bid winner has had UK-based consultants in its stable of advisers
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The Independent Online

We're on the home straight. Just 51 days remain before the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. While the medals are yet to be awarded, the legacy of London 2012 has been a focus from the earliest days of the bid. The debate often centres on sport-specific themes. Are participation rates increasing? Has the quality and availability of facilities improved? This is understandable; the Olympic and Paralympic Games are sporting events after all.

However, the sporting legacy is not the whole story. For British businesses, the skill and efficiency with which the extremely complex Olympic programme has been put together has provided a massive reputational boost. London 2012 has delivered new ways of working, and set standards around sustainable construction, SME integration in supply chains, local business engagement and training schemes, for example. All of this is good for business in the UK, particularly in competition with international rivals, and it is important that this knowledge and innovation is gathered and used to benefit British business domestically and internationally.

A successful export strategy will require targeted investment and promotion from government. The legacy for British business won't automatically arrive because we are capable of hosting a successful event. In conjunction with individual businesses and trade bodies, the Government must provide leadership and investment to promote the UK's competitive advantage.

It demands wider thinking – we are not only promoting our success in staging a major event, this is about Britain's world-class skills in technology, security, operational planning, complex programmes, digital communications and many other sectors relevant to a huge swathe of business and governmental challenges the world over.

The highly specialised niche of Olympic bid consultancy shows what is possible. Since London won the right to host the Games, every subsequent Olympic bid winner – Sochi 2014, Rio 2016 and Pyeongchang 2018 – has had UK-based consultants in its stable of advisers. However, the focus of international expertise will quickly shift, towards Brazil, Russia and the Middle East as hosts of forthcoming Olympic Games and World Cups, so British business and government must act quickly to capitalise.

Domestically, legacy is already being delivered and the capital programme investment has been a significant success. This is most visible in the social and economic regeneration of the East End of London, which has been accelerated by at least a generation. Jobs have been created, key infrastructure projects safeguarded and power lines, one of the biggest barriers to redevelopment, removed. The story does not end here. The Games are a staging post in the transformation of the East End, a six-week sporting event in the middle of a decades-long redevelopment project.

Deloitte estimates that some £2.5bn to £3bn of construction and related services contracts are still to be awarded in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and surrounding areas as 8,000 new homes are built, the press and broadcast centres are redeveloped and sports facilities are transformed into their post-Games configuration.

These achievements are bold and arguably broader than other UK regeneration programmes of the last 30 years, but they are largely physical and environmental in nature. The wider social, economic and enterprise-led benefits are just as complex, but harder to evidence and in many cases are still being refined.

There will need to be greater focus on the softer elements of regeneration such as social infrastructure, skills investment and community building. It is also important that early visitor numbers are high and there is strong uptake of residential and business opportunities. If a negative perception of the Olympic Park develops, it could take years to recover. Most critically, existing Olympic delivery structures must be maintained. London 2012's integration of community, local, citywide and national delivery structures has been a pioneering success for the UK.

It demonstrates what can be achieved with commitment from all parties. The current programme of integrated Games and legacy planning has continued through three prime ministers and Whitehall administrations, three mayoral terms and many more local government changes. It would be too easy for big political hitters to turn their attention away from legacy once the Games are over. This would be a big mistake.

Without sustained senior commitment to – and accountability for – delivering every pound of legacy value from the £9.3bn of investment into the Games, there is a risk that the local cross-party and cross-borough entente will stumble. The new London Legacy Development Corporation is one positive step but more action will be needed to hold the focus on long-term gains rather than short-term trade-offs.

The roar of the Paralympic closing ceremony is just the beginning. One of the greatest legacy contributions businesses can make is to maintain our focus on ensuring all of the potential from these Games is brought to maturity. Not by the end of September. Not by the end of 2012. But over the course of the next decade and more.

David Sproul is chief executive and senior partner of Deloitte, the official professional services provider to London 2012