Maria Miller is the Secretary of State for Culture and MP for Basingstoke
London's 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games promised to deliver a lasting legacy for both the capital and UK plc. Britain was at the centre of the world stage – and the benefits that ensued are being seen in communities across the country.
Not only did our Opening and Closing Ceremonies wow the world with their creativity and quirkiness, but they banged the drum for Britain in terms of marketing our country and our businesses to the world. Britain has a unique cultural and historical fabric, a rich tapestry that weaves our country together and whether it be our museums, our historic buildings, our countryside or our arts – people are drawn to the UK from across the world.
Of course we sought to maximise the economic impact of the London games but that was only part of our Olympic ambition and the legacy that we have worked upon since the last closing ceremony is about so much more. The Prime Minister set an ambitious goal of achieving trade deals of £11 billion in the four years following the Games, and thanks to the entrepreneurship of our businesses and the efforts of UK Trade & Investment, we are up to £9.9 billion in new business secured in just 12 months. That's great news for business, and it's great for Britain.
But the legacy of the Games was never purely economic. East London has been transformed into a bustling new hub of shops, businesses and soon to be homes. We have also seen a strong increase in the number of people taking part in sporting activity on a weekly basis, with almost a million-and-a-half more people participating in sport since London's winning bid in July 2005. As part of the legacy, all our elite athletes all have to give five days back to local communities, that’s part of the deal we make with them when they get taxpayers money; this is paying dividends already through inspiring young people in schools and youth clubs across the UK.
The Games not only inspired people to get out onto the playing fields, but also get more involved with their local communities, who could forget the fantastic Games Makers and the enthusiastic welcome they gave to all visitors. This week also saw the start of "Join In", a summer-long programme of activities aimed at maintaining the momentum created by the Games, ensuring more people get involved in community volunteering. There can be no doubt that last summer saw a re-invigorated sense across the country that we are proud to be British – and we shouldn’t underestimate the important role that the huge number of volunteers played in that.
Another aspect of the legacy that I have spoken about a lot, and which I am passionate about seeing flourish, is getting more women and girls taking part in sport on a regular basis. When it comes to playing sport there is a gender gap between men and women and I am determined to close it. Our female athletes are fantastic role models, and we want to improve their visibility so as they inspire others to get involved in sport.
Having held a number of high level meetings with broadcasters and sports to improve coverage of women’s sport, I have been encouraged by the progress so far, particularly from the broadcasters, but we need to go further. As for the sport’s governing bodies, we are working with Sport England and UK Sport, who have set a target for sports governing bodies that receive public funding to have more representative boards – with the aim that the board’s of the governing bodies to have at least 25 per cent women represented by 2017.
A year on from the London games, the question is naturally asked as to what the legacy means, whether we have made the most of the opportunities that were afforded to us and what we must continue to do to ensure the momentum isn’t lost. I am confident in saying that the London games made a real difference, and will continue to make a real difference as we continue to reap the benefits and build our legacy pillars.
Last summer, the world’s eyes descended on the UK – and the Olympics gave us the chance to showcase our incredible country, which has resulted in more growth, investment and a boost for tourism. However this is just the start, we have a 10 year legacy plan and we must continue to make the very most of the opportunities the Games gave us.