Edition number 6; dateline 29 February 2008

The positive delights of OPW

Of all the many delights to be found among the pages of The Leisure Review, the World of Leisure section has to be one of my favourites. Modest in its ambitions, it seeks to do no more than offer a time line of the significant stories that are likely to affect us all. It also occasionally draws our attention the minor aspects of our age that at first glance may have only tangential bearing on the immediate issues but somehow stick in the mind to prove of use months later. Whenever it appears on my desk for the editorial once-over I get a little frisson and give it my full attention.

This month’s World exploded with excitement towards the end of the month with the biggest morsel to date – a great big mouthful – for Olympic Price Watch, the leisure industry’s very own makeshift audit of who spends what and for whom. OPW is leisure’s own running totaliser of comparative spending and brings a pouty teenage sulkiness to all discussions of leisure funding that is always useful. It all began, of course, with the inevitable stories of how much the 2012 Olympics were going to cost. The official TLR line (from which we deviate wildly according to the time of day and the proportion of our lunch that has proved on closer inspection to be alcohol) is, firstly, that the 2012 Game will be a Good Thing for the UK as long as we don’t make a royal screw up of it and, secondly, that it was always going to cost a shed load of money but it will prove to have been worth it in the end. OPW then began to point out how much money the nation happily pours into other projects in an attempt to apply some much-needed perspective on how quickly seven, eight, nine or even ten billion quid seems to come and go across the Chancellor’s desk.

There have been some very interesting facts and figures gathered in this way, not least the avoidance of some £1 billion in tax by Tesco, but surely the six trillion dollars spent on an illegal invasion of Iraq will take some beating. The point from the perspective of leisure professionals everywhere is this: if so much money can be wasted in ways so mundane and so spectacular we have every right to complain when a sector that delivers only positive outcomes for its communities, whomever and wherever they may be, is continually patronised, under-estimated and criticised, usually on the grounds of how much it all costs.

Adrian Benepe, New York City’s commissioner for parks and recreation, is steadfast in his view that what he and his colleagues achieve is hugely important for the future of his city. New York is a very different place in 2008 to the city it was in 1978. Few would argue that the state of the city’s amenities and open spaces have been hugely important factors. Where once parents with young families moved from Manhattan to the suburbs as soon as they felt the first kick, they now stick around to live in the city and watch their kids play Little League and soccer. It’s been a major change for Greenwich Village and Hell’s Kitchen, and in some respects it represents a major pain in the arse (ass in NYC, obviously) for the department that has now to meet the demand for diamonds and pitches in one of the most densely populated cities in the world. However, no one would argue that it was not money well spent. Closer to most of our homes, similar messages emerged from our round-table discussion in the North West and the conversation served to illustrate that among the many challenges there are myriad successes across our sector.

While the money-makers decry the inconvenience of having to find new ways of avoiding paying taxes and patiently explain to those of us who are financially hard of thinking why non-doms must be cosseted for the value they bring to our economy, we point to Olympic Price Watch and ask a different question. Why, when so many other tax havens have better weather and nicer beaches, do so many non-doms want to live in the UK. The answer can be found among all the other stories in The Leisure Review.

Jonathan Ives



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