Article for Kent Business

It is only a year before the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games come to London when seven years of planning and hard work will come to fruition.

The construction phase is almost complete and the Games are being delivered on time and within the £9.3 billion budget. It’s a fantastic achievement which has seen contaminated industrial wasteland turned into world class sporting venues and a part of East London regenerated during some of the most turbulent economic conditions this country has ever seen.

The Olympic Stadium, Velodrome, and Handball Arena have all been completed in recent months while the newly built Lee Valley White Water Centre at Broxbourne is already being used by elite athletes and the public alike. It is a perfect example of how Olympic facilities will boost community sport as part of a lasting legacy.

Transport preparations to cope with the increase in people and traffic are also well advanced. Improvements are already evident with station upgrades, increased capacity all over the city and the new javelin train line. I have found the connection between Ebbsfleet and Stratford International Station extremely useful for my regular visits from home to the Olympic Park. This line will give the people of Kent fantastic access to the Games and the city more generally.

All this progress could not have happened without the help of British businesses. Almost 98 per cent of the 1500 Olympic Delivery Authority’s (ODA) direct suppliers are based in the UK. This has in turn generated further domestic business opportunities through the supply chains to those companies. Kent businesses are no exception with 46 firms directly supplying the ODA. Kent firm Chestnut Products Ltd, for example, installed the perimeter fencing to the Olympic Park and the Lee Valley White Water Canoe Centre.

It is now the turn of the London Organising Committee (LOCOG) to look for suppliers as the staging phase comes to the fore. They have around £700 million worth of contracts available which businesses can pitch for on the CompeteFor website – which is also being used increasingly by other public sector organisations such as Transport for London and Westminster City Council.

The opportunities will continue after the Games when the transformation of the Park begins which will provide new housing, education, health and community facilities. We are also encouraging the growing digital sector to utilise the Games technology infrastructure in the Park to help create London’s answer to Silicon Valley. This can result in more jobs on top of the 18,000 created by the Stratford City retail development.

But let’s not forget what the Olympic and Paralympic Games is all about – world class sport. An unprecedented amount of public money – more than £300m in the last four years – has been invested so our athletes can train to be in the best possible shape in 2012 and I have seen just how committed they are to achieving it.

The same is true for all the visiting athletes who will be using facilities across the UK for training before their events. In Kent, Tonbridge will host Athletics Australia and the Ukraine and Belarus Judo teams. This, along with the Paralympic Road Cycling event at Brands Hatch and a visit from the Olympic torch relay, means Kent will be right at the heart of the Games creating amazing opportunities for local businesses.

With enthusiasm for the Games so high (1.8 million people applying for 20 million tickets and another 70,000 Games-time volunteers) businesses need to make sure they are thinking now about their strategy.

That is what we are doing with our sports legacy initiative Places People Play. We are investing £135 million of lottery money into improving community facilities and providing more opportunities for people to play sport while the new ‘School Games’ based on Kent County Council’s ‘Kent School Games’ will bring an Olympic and Paralympic style competition to schools right across the UK.

As the Garden of England we can look forward to the increased tourism boost that will come from showcasing Kent to the world. But in the end the Games will be for Kent what Kent makes of them. That is why I encourage every business to take responsibility for making the best of London 2012 just like our committed, talented athletes.