A sporting chance
Shona Robison on the challenges and opportunities of Glasgow 2014
When we meet at her ministerial office at Holyrood, Shona Robison is not long back from Stirling Castle where Scotland’s biggest Commonwealth Games team – 310 athletes in total – was announced. With a month to go until the Games start, Robison tells of the palpable sense of excitement among those attending the Stirling event. It is seven years since the announcement that Glasgow had secured its bid for the event and according to Robison, one thing is clear, “Scotland will be a better place for having hosted Glasgow 2014,” she says.
“As we enter the finishing straight, Team Scotland is in great shape as they make their final preparations. The rest of us have an opportunity to look at what comes next and how we can use their inspiring performances to encourage the next generation of athletes to follow in their footsteps. The Games will be a platform for future Scottish success on the world stage.”
Any major sporting event presents its own challenges but Robison is confident Glasgow is on track to make the Games a success. It will be the biggest multi-sports event Scotland has ever hosted, bringing 6,500 athletes and officials from 71 nations and territories to the city to compete in 17 different sports over 11 days. Speaking about how the final preparations are going, she tells Holyrood: “We’re where we need to be, on time and on budget. The final touches are being put to the preparations, all the venues are ready and many have been open for months serving the public. All the transport arrangements are being finalised and the Athletes’ Village is being made ready to welcome the athletes. It literally is the finishing touches and we’re in a great place. When you look at major sporting events, to be on time and on budget at this stage is a very good place to be.
“It’s been a huge team effort by all the partners, it has been many years of work and with the Team Scotland announcements, that is the icing on the cake. We have our 310 fantastic athletes, it is the biggest team ever, ready to go out and do their best and in many cases win medals. There’re going to be some young athletes who will without doubt become household names during the Games.”
In terms of the facilities themselves, Robison believes Glasgow and its partners have been smart in how they’ve approached creating the sporting venues for the Games.
She said: “The Velodrome and the Emirates Arena are a good case in point. They have been open to the community for over a year and have been well-used in hosting major events. In terms of revenue, they’ve been washing their face, so to speak. We were very clear from the start that we didn’t want any white elephants in Scotland. We’ve seen too often in major games before, where venues were built and then not used. Every venue had to have a very strong business case and the fact that many of them are already open for business, hosting events and serving the public, is great.
“That’s a good model for the Games and similarly, the fact that we haven’t built a brand new athletics stadium because the cost would have been prohibitive. We’ve actually used this fantastic engineering technology to transform Hampden into an athletics stadium, for a comparably modest cost. This has been a great engineering solution which is also a good legacy, potentially, for other cities who want to host but don’t want to go down that huge expenditure route. Although significant amounts of money have been spent by ourselves and our partners, compared to the Rios and the Sochis, it is in a different league.”
In the past few weeks, the Scottish Government has been keen to stress preparations for the Games are on time and on budget, with evidence of its legacy programme already showing benefits across Scotland’s communities. According to a recent press release, the £500m spent on the construction and refurbishment of Games venues and the Athletes’ Village over the six years leading to 2014 has supported, on average, around 1,000 jobs and contributed £52m to Scotland’s GVA in each year. Scottish companies have won 82 per cent of contracts associated with the Games and after the event finishes, the Athletes’ Village will provide 700 new homes, including 400 for social rent and a new 120-bed care home for the elderly.
Robison said: “‘On time, on budget’ has been the motto to partners; the organising committee of course have understood that message very clearly from the start. There have been challenges, we had to increase the security budget but since that was done, we have landed, with just a few weeks to go, on time and on budget, and ready to host a fantastic Games. It’s always nice to get external praise and the Commonwealth Games Federation has paid tribute to the budgetary handling of the partners and the organising committee.
“In the current climate we’re just coming out of recession, which meant it was even more important. We won the bid to host the Games pre-recession but of course we were spending the money to deliver the infrastructure right through the recession period. That’s public money so we had to be careful, I have always been very conscious that we are guardians of the public purse and we had to have a strong story to tell about how we have spent that money. With all that in mind, I know we’re in a good place.
“A safe and successful Games is absolutely the key for us. That’s why we increased the security budget and we took on board the lessons learned from London 2012. Under the great leadership of Steve Allen, Deputy Chief Constable, I get regular updates. One of the key lessons was getting the mix of security right. I was very keen that the upfront presence of people who are doing the bag checking and dealing with the public were, as far as possible, Police Scotland and now of course a military presence. It’s a good combination. Also, I wanted the private security mix to not be all one company, we had to spread the risk, and they will serve more of a stewarding, back-of-house role. We have got a good balance and a good mix now, with the minimised risk. That’s down to the good stewardship of Steve Allen, who has been making sure we didn’t make the mistakes London made in that regard.
“It is important the look and feel of the Games is right, that we’ve got a very strong security presence but they feel relaxed and friendly. That can be achieved and will be achieved but we’ve had to work hard to get it right. Also, all the behind the scenes work around intelligence sharing is being done, it might not be visible but it is absolutely there. Safe and secure but friendly, that is what we are working on. The Queen’s Baton Relay will be the same because it is important people can see the baton, get close to it and enjoy the festivities around the baton but of course there will be an appropriate level of security there too.”
In terms of taking lessons from the Olympics in 2012, Robison said they had teams of people down in London during the event, behind the scenes, sharing expertise and looking at the key issues which would be helpful for Glasgow 2014.
She said: “I went down myself and spent some time there, looking at aspects of Games delivery and legacy as well. We learned a lot. Security was obviously one of the key lessons. We also learned much in terms of making sure the transport and communications were right, that was another issue which was a challenge in London, although the transport network turned out very well. We were conscious about making sure transport is right but we don’t then leave parts of Glasgow completely empty.
“It’s a different scenario because Glasgow obviously isn’t on the same scale as London, it’s a different size of city and it isn’t laid out in the same way. What we wanted to do is ensure the city is busy at all times, so there’s a night-time economy which allows restaurants and cafés to open later and that there’s a real buzz about the place. A lot of this has taken much organisation and communication. There has been a long dialogue with the business community about how best to achieve it. There have been many lessons learned and all of those have been put into play.”
In terms of regeneration, the Scottish Government said since 2007 more than £125m has been invested in Clyde Gateway urban regeneration company to redevelop Glasgow’s East End and South Lanarkshire. The total area of vacant and derelict land in the East End of Glasgow decreased by 32 per cent between 2011 and 2012, and this regeneration activity has seen almost 30,000 square metres of business space created and 117 hectares of land remediated or decontaminated. After the Games, the community-owned Dalmarnock Legacy Hub will house a new all-purpose community hall, nursery, GP surgery, pharmacy, training and educational facilities, a convenience store and community café, and construction work on the hub will support more than 60 jobs and four apprenticeships, and support 55 new long-term jobs.
For Robison, the regeneration of the East End has been a major and important result of the Games.
“It is completely transformed and with a large element of the Athletes’ Village becoming social housing, that whole area will hopefully be a catalyst for further investment,” Robison said.
“We’ve already seen businesses locating there, with the new transport links and Dalmarnock Station being refurbished and then the Dalmarnock Community Hub which will be built after the Games, which the community asked for. Given they’ve suffered a fair amount of disruption I think it was quite right they have something they could turn to and say, ‘this is ours’. It is going to house a community centre and many services under one roof. We’ve helped fund that along with Clyde Gateway and others. There is still work going to be going on after the Games, the regeneration of the area doesn’t finish when the Games close. Clyde Gateway has plans to use the model of real community engagement to take that forward.
“The transport infrastructure investment is going to be a legacy well beyond the Games as well. In terms of out-with Glasgow, we’ve been working very hard on the community sports hubs; delivering at least 150 of those is a key legacy ambition. It is about opening up the school estate and making it easier for people to access sport. We have a legacy fund to allow communities to improve their sporting infrastructure. All of these are really important and they are going to continue beyond the Games.
“The message we’ve been giving to all our partners is ‘don’t think legacy ends when the Games end’ it goes on beyond. Many of the legacy programmes will go beyond the Games and delivering legacy will go on for years, not just in Glasgow but throughout Scotland.
“We’ve got over 50 national legacy programmes running all over Scotland. If you look in Dundee, for example, the Aspire project is a cultural programme which is being delivered in the most deprived schools and is getting children involved in music, the arts, dance and drama, then using these mediums to build confidence. This is very much linked to the culture programme around the Games. There are so many projects like that and the measuring of the success of those will go on for months and years.
“If in a few years time we are able to identify that we began to change the way we see ourselves
and our level of activity, and the Games were a catalyst, it will be a huge success. It is all about keeping the momentum going around this active and cultural agenda. The fact that we, as a nation, can make a better place to live and for our children to grow up, we’ve got to keep working on that.”
An important legacy of the Commonwealth Games is undoubtedly getting more Scots active and involved in sport and physical activity. Robison said sportscotland is currently gathering large amounts of data around activity in the community sports hubs. The organisation is measuring the numbers of people taking up activity of all ages who didn’t previously and also looking at the numbers of young people and children who are being more active, more often.
She continued: “I met with 17 governing bodies of the sports which are Commonwealth Games sports and I asked them about their preparations for the bounce we’re going to see in terms of people wanting to try sports they might not have seen a lot of before. All 17 were able to tell me in detail about the expansion of clubs, the recruitment of extra coaches and volunteers, the fact they are seeing growth of membership, and this is before the Games. They have created this extra capacity and headroom to welcome all these enthusiastic potential athletes of the future and also people who might just want to try a sport. They have been doing a lot of work with sportscotland to really create a continued buzz. There is so much happening, it has been truly a Team Scotland effort in the widest sense, with all shoulders to the wheel and trying to eke out every single legacy opportunity from everything around the Games.
“We’ve worked very hard with partners and I think we’ll be able to tell a good story about what that has resulted in. This all started in 2007 when we won the right to host the Games, it has been a seven year lead-in with many of the legacy programmes being well embedded already and working very hard to make the difference. It is a model which the Commonwealth Games Federation has said is a blueprint for others to follow, about starting early and embedding legacy. It can’t be a flash in the pan, it has to be there within organisations, communities and partnerships, and it has to be sustainable.
“In the short term, we are looking at economic benefits, we’ve had job creation around the Games and the Modern Apprenticeships which have been funded around the leisure industry. Those stories are really important, particularly for communities in areas like in the East End of Glasgow where there have been generations of workless households, where people haven’t had role models in terms of being successful in the job market. Now there are stories all over those communities about people they know getting a start as a modern apprentice. I hear all these stories about people whose lives have been transformed, which wouldn’t otherwise have happened. We’ve also heard about small businesses getting a chance in difficult economic times to keep staff and keep themselves afloat. The economic benefits in the short term, over the course of the Games, will be really important and a great boost for the economy.
“In the longer term, we’ll be looking at the tourism opportunities. There will be a billion plus people watching the images of Glasgow and Scotland through the Games, it is a huge opportunity to market our country and the benefits will be felt for many years to come. Scotland is going to be on the world stage and the eyes of the world will be on Scotland. This year is a huge opportunity to get people wanting to come here and bring the economic benefits which that brings.”
Despite all the positive aspects of the Games, it would be impossible to put on an event of this size without some significant challenges. Organisers came in for serious criticism after an initial plan to demolish the Red Road flats as part of the opening ceremony of the Games. The controversial plan, which garnered 17,000 signatures in an online petition, was quickly shelved. The flats, built in the mid-1960s, originally housed more than 4,000 people and opponents questioned safety aspects of the idea, as well as what message the demolition would send. In a statement, Games chief executive David Grevemberg said: “It has become clear that opinions have been expressed which change the safety and security context. Glasgow 2014, Games partners and key stakeholders, including Police Scotland and Glasgow Housing Association, are not prepared to allow what was proposed to be a positive act of commemoration to create risk for all concerned, including the communities of north east Glasgow.”
Robison added: “It would be unlikely that you would be able to deliver a major sporting event without there being challenges along the way. Red Road was a point where what looked fine on paper, around a table in a meeting, however, when it was subjected to scrutiny in the cold light of day, it wasn’t such a good idea. It didn’t receive the public support that was hoped for but I think the way it was dealt with, to put our hands up and say, ‘we’ve listened to what the public have said about that, we respect that view and we’re not going to do it anymore’, was positive. We’re going to have a fantastic opening ceremony, a real showcase of talent and it was the right decision not to go ahead. It was a lesson learned, that lesson is you have to listen to the public and sometimes you will make mistakes and you’ve got to accept that and move on.
“By and large, the media have been pretty positive and supportive of the Games and that’s been very welcome. I’m sure they’re going to continue to be so through the Games themselves and beyond.”
Robison believes the Games have also helped to foster civic pride, not just in Glasgow but in Scotland as a whole. She hopes this will continue to grow as the event starts but she thinks Scots should already feel proud about what has been achieved so far.
She said: “We are in a really good place, being praised by the Commonwealth Games Federation for the work we have done but we must not be complacent. I am absolutely confident we will deliver a safe, successful, friendly, super Games and one we should be truly proud of. Our ability to host the biggest event that this country has ever hosted and to do that successfully, will be a great source of pride for every person in Scotland. It shows what we are capable of.”
"You feel a bit homeless, that’s kind of what I’m feeling" - How European citizens living in Scotland have reacted to the vote to leave the EU
The contribution of fictional characters and celebrities to the independence debate
Regardless of whether you think the SNP acted childishly in walking out of the House of Commons in protest, the symbolism was obvious
Speaking ahead of an emergency House of Commons debate on the Sewel Convention, Blackford warns “Scotland will not accept or forget the Tory government’s smash and grab raid"