A government health warning
5 September, 2012
The Olympic feel-good factor was always too good to last. Just a couple of days after the end of what was almost universally praised as a brilliant global event, showing off the best of so many aspects of Britain, the dreaded Daily Mail was back to its familiar ‘we’re all doomed’ mode.
No time to bask in collective pride and satisfaction of a job well done, the Mail had dire warnings of the middle classes drinking themselves to oblivion because of the recession. The Mail isn’t comfortable with optimism.
But no matter, we should be used to it by now.
So it was heartening to hear the then culture minister Jeremy Hunt on the same day talking about the Olympic legacy. “We want to increase overseas visitors from around 30 million to 40 million by 2020,” he said, including the Government pumping £8m on marketing Britain to the Chinese next year. He set a target of increasing the 150,000 Chinese tourists in 2011 to 500,000 in 2015, and predicted it would generate more than £500m extra spend a year and create 14,000 jobs.
The investment should be welcomed by all in hospitality, and is part of a raft of measures aimed at exploiting the boost in international interest created by the Games, which had secured London as one of the most “buzzy” and “exciting” cities “on the planet”, according to Hunt. The Government is also spending £2m on an Olympics follow- up to boost domestic tourism in 2013.
The Olympics has actually been a fantastic example of how Government can work creatively and efficiently to deliver a first-class product. The key to that was not allowing civil servants and ministers to get their hands on it, but to handover the responsibility to Seb Coe and his organizing team. Government is at its best when it provides the vision, comes up with the cash, then hands over the running to someone else. Otherwise, politicians should be kept well away.
But it is all too easy to become seduced by Government and what it can actually achieve. The Olympic glow may tempt industry, including our own sector, to ask for more central support. The fact that the eating and drinking out market is one of the few showing any growth should make it a leading candidate for more backing.
But the sage words of that renowned guru Jim Sullivan should be ringing in our ears: “Always avoid getting involved with Government, whether national or local.”
Because if you think either Whitehall or Westminster really understands business, just pause to consider the even more recent decision to deny Virgin Trains the chance to keep its franchise for the West Coast rail-line.
I have a vested interest—it’s my route to and from London. Virgin’s not perfect, but delivers the best service of any rail provider. It invests in its people and service standards (it gets Jim Sullivan) and has by far the best food and drink. It does what we in hospitality do. Yet, showing all the short-termism, disinterest in customers and money- grabbing tendencies that it normally accuses banks of, the Government decides to hand the franchise to the bidder with the deepest pockets. Forget everything else.
The Olympics is a brilliant example of what can be achieved through co-operation on a national scale – and the feel-good factor shouldn’t be dissipated. But.....
Perhaps the best answer to Government comes from the public itself, in our Peach BrandTrack survey on attitudes to health and eating-out. When it comes to interfering in what people do day-to-day, in this case what they should eat and drink, the public’s answer is quite simply: “Back off”.