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Council spending on Olympic activities revealed
8:10am Saturday 25th August 2012 in News
Hundreds of thousands of pounds of Hertfordshire taxpayers’ money has been spent on activities such as business breakfasts and merchandise in the run up to the London Olympics.
Figures obtained by the Borehamwood Times reveal Hertfordshire County Council spent £440,000 on the Hertfordshire Is Ready for Winners Partnership, which has been branded a "PR exercise" by opposition politicians, in the run up to the games.
Council bosses have come under fire for spending so much money on the campaign when it is making drastic spending cuts such as switching off the county’s night time streetlighting.
However ruling Conservative county politicians have defended the partnership saying it helped secure lucrative Olympic contracts for Hertfordshire Businesses.
Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show the partnership, which included other councils and private companies, spent a total £1.3m over the last six years.
Among the things the money was spent on was holding 16 "award-winning" business breakfasts, raising £6,017 for the Hertfordshire Talented Athlete Programme as well as convincing the competing teams British Virgin Islands, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, Afghanistan and Tajikistan to train in the county.
The leader of the Hertfordshire Liberal Democrats, Stephen Giles-Medhurst, said at a time of county spending cuts the public needed to see a tangible return for such a large outlay.
He said: "It does seem like a lot of money, but it depends if there is going to be payback for business in Hertfordshire.
"But if it has just been spent on sports events against a backdrop of drastic funding cuts, then I would want an independent look at what value for money we are getting for the investment."
The partnership was set up in 2006 after London won its bid to hold the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.
As well as the county council, the partnership also consisted of other district and borough council and other organisations such as the University of Hertfordshire, NHS trusts, Warner Bros. PennWell Corporation and Standsted Lettings.
The partnership was initially run by another public authority and private partnership called Hertfordshire Prosperity. However in 2010 it was taken over by Hertfordshire County Council and it was decided it needed a dedicated team was needed to carry out its work.
A team of five, based at county hall, was employed by the partnership including a Herts 2012 ambassador, a team manager, a project officer, a communications officer and a senior support officer.
Among the things partnership did in the run up to the games was set up a website to inform residents about its work, publish a monthly news letter, purchase promotional items such as pin badges and T-shirts which were handed to schools and community groups.
The partnership also supported county-wide school sports events and welcomed Olympic teams to the county.
Hertfordshire County Council also supplied a list of benefits it attributed to the work of the partnership including more than 4,700 Hertfordshire companies signing up to the government’s CompeteFor portal for Olympic contracts. Of these the council said 239 won contracts of between £80 and £102m.
The chairman of the partnership, Derrick Ashley, who is also the Conservative cabinet member for transformation, performance and waste management, said the scheme was worth its £1.3m price tag.
He said: "I think it did deliver value. There were some successful business breakfasts hosted by businesses around the county encouraging businesses to apply for Olympic contracts.
"Hertfordshire businesses won hundreds of millions of pounds worth of contracts. The partnership acted as a catalyst and pointed them in the right direction."
Councillor added about the benefits the partnership had brought the county: "Some are tangible some are intangible."