It’s unclear whether Birmingham’s 2022 Commonwealth Games will bring long-term benefits to the city, an inquiry has concluded. A damning report today warned the Government had failed to “prioritise” the legacy of the games.
The inquiry also raised concerns about the long-term future of the Alexander Stadium in Perry Barr, the main stadium for the games, which is currently costing Birmingham City Council around £2 million a year to run.
Birmingham’s Commonwealth Games begin on July 28 and more than 6,500 athletes will take part. While Birmingham City Council and the West Midlands Combined Authority are involved in the planning, the Games’ organising committee is ultimately responsible to the Government, which is providing most of the £778 million funding.
The House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee today publishedf the findings of an inquiry into major sporting and cultural events. It warned: “Although the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games present a great opportunity for the people of the West Midlands, particularly through its volunteer programme, there remains a sense that legacy funding and long-term evaluation have not been sufficiently prioritised.
“This leads us to conclude that, ultimately, there is a lack of an overall vision or direction to the Government’s events policy. This needs to be addressed if the UK is to capitalise on the opportunities that major events provide.”
The Committee is chaired by Solihull MP Julian Knight (Con). Members include MPs from across the country, and all parties. As part of their investigation, they visited Birmingham and met Games organisers including Birmingham 2022 Chief Executive Ian Reid.
One of the benefits of the Games is the renovation of the Alexander Stadium, but the MPs said they were concerned about the stadium’s long-term future. They said: “We heard how the Games have provided a catalyst for renovating Alexander Stadium, including increasing its spectator capacity. The stadium will also serve as a base for Birmingham City University’s sports and exercise faculty post-Games, and we were told that this legacy usage will help to reduce the venue’s financial pressures on Birmingham City Council.
“We are, however, disappointed that the council has so far been unable to provide us, even on a confidential basis, with any headline figures relating to such continuing use. This does little to assuage our concerns over the robustness of the long-term financial aspirations for Alexander Stadium.”
There will also be a new aquatics centre in Smethwick, which will become a community facility once the games are over.
Many of the benefits of the games are said to be social or environmental, rather than financial. They include include promoting women’s sport, with more women’s medals than men’s; providing the largest integrated para-sport programme for any Commonwealth Games; becoming the first carbon neutral games; boosting Birmingham’s global reputation, and training volunteers.
But the MPs warned there was no Government funding going directly into ensuring the Games provide long-term benefits. They said: “The legacy programme is being funded through fundraising and a multi-partnership approach, rather than any allocation from the Games’ core budget.”
And the Government doesn’t have any plans to evaluate the Games’ legacy in the long term. Instead, it will simply produce a report next year.
The Committee warned: “Legacy programmes and independent evaluation are vital for delivering long-term value for money from major events. However, current funding structures and limited evaluation periods give the impression that they are not a priority, as illustrated in the case of the Commonwealth Games.”
MPs also said the Government was failing to make the most of the fact that a number of major events are taking place this year, including the Commonwealth Games, a national culture festival called Unboxed, the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and Coventry’s period as City Culture, which began in 2021 but was extended into 2022 because of Covid.
They said: “The Government is spending a lot of money on this year’s major events. Yet while individual occasions may well deliver memorable moments, we see no golden thread linking the events or tying them to a vision for the future of this country.”
Mr Knight said: “Unless the Government urgently addresses this lack of strategy and vision, it will continue to risk squandering the benefits such occasions can bring, while wasting the hard-earned money of taxpayers.”
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport says that through increased investment, infrastructure projects and sporting and cultural programmes, the Games will be at the heart of the region’s economic recovery in the aftermath of coronavirus. It also highlights the Birmingham 2022 Festival, which is expected to engage 2.5 million people in the UK, and the £24 million Business and Tourism Programme is promoting the region to the Commonwealth as a great place to visit and invest in.
The Games are creating new jobs and skills opportunities with 30,000 Games-time roles and 13,000 volunteering positions, according to the Government.
A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson said: “We disagree with the committee’s findings.
“The UK has a strong history of hosting incredible international events that deliver huge benefits for the nation, creating jobs and increasing investment in towns and cities across the country.
“2022 will be no different with Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, the Women’s Euros, the Rugby League World Cup and UNBOXED bringing people together and leaving a strong legacy that will benefit communities for years to come.”
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