Monday, 10 December 2012

How does an economic boost leave unpaid bills?

Each time there’s a build-up of hype about how much an event will contribute to the local economy, I start to feel nervous and resistant. I’d prefer to greet news of imminent prosperity with gushes of enthusiasm, but the way these events are sold to us makes me want to stand with my back to the wall, cynical and suspicious.

Most of my scepticism is a reaction to the promotion of the notion of ‘The Economy’. An abstract concept at the best of times, ‘The Economy’ has become to the likes of ye and me an emotional tipping point, because we’re consistently told that its needs are more important than our own.

We have started to feel like the krill that feed the whale. Clearly the krill can survive without the whale, but to keep the vast beast alive, new taxes are invented. Despite the fact that every red cent paid in benefits is immediately returned through spending into ‘The Economy’, welfare is cut.

Then there’s this huge headline proclaiming the arrival of a Major All-New Must-See Event that will bring a multi-million euro boost to the local economy, and we’re all meant to celebrate, participate and reap rich rewards.

But we don’t, because we feel so incredibly detached from ‘The Economy’. As mere fodder, we dare not hope to share in the harvest.

For years before the Olympics, my friends and family over in London couldn’t have been more negative about the Games. Proud of their massive and majestic city, they simply didn’t understand why Lord Coe was rambling on about how the Olympic Games would put London on the map.

Do what? You’re ‘avin’ a laugh mate! London was, is and will always be very much on the map. Not one person alive today is marvelling at how, if it wasn’t for those Olympic Games, they’d never have discovered London.

Instead of the promised torrent of visitors, tourists stayed away from the Olympic City in their droves. London’s small businesses went through a summer from hell, as those who went to the Games ignored the rest of the city and country. Hosting the Olympics proved an economic disaster for London, but Team GB medal euphoria saved the day.

I’ve been a huge fan of the Volvo Ocean Race ever since it was the Whitbread Race, decades ago. Yet I feel a sharp stab of anger when I read about the financial mess it left behind. How on earth can anyone be talking about how much it boosted the local economy when workers, suppliers and performers are still owed money?

I’ve seen many small businesses go broke in Galway, leaving in their wake a sad trail of broken promises and unpaid bills. When a restaurant suddenly stops trading without notice, the tiny businesses that supply it with their locally-sourced produce are left drowning in debt.

What can be more representative of the local economy than the bloke you see on Quay Street delivering his own-grown organic veg to that restaurant? But he’s the one who’s going to get screwed when the place goes broke.

So who does profit from these supposedly massive boosts to the local economy? When Festivals hit town and the shops, restaurants and hotels are taking a fortune, it’s not the kitchen porters or waitresses who benefit. They just have to work even longer hours. It’s not the restaurant or shop managers who earn more, because they’re on a salary, and have to work as long as the business stays open.

As ever, it’s those further up the economic pyramid who fill their pockets with the elusive profits from these economic boosts. To the rest of us, the festivals are either a bit of a buzz or simply something that’s going to snarl up the traffic and make us late getting home from work.

Take the Ironman. Go on take it. No seriously folks, I truly admire the incredible athleticism of the competitors and marvel at how many sane people are willing to jump into the Atlantic on a stormy Sunday morning. When I was living in Salthill though, I was far from enthralled to be woken up at 5.30 am on my day off by the tannoy blasting off the Prom.

“Oh get over yourself!” I hear you cry, “Get your fat arse out of bed and go and cheer those poor feckers running all that way in the lashing rain and howling gale!”

Yeh right. That would be a great boost to my local economy. The same boost I felt when I tried to drive to the supermarket later that morning and found I couldn’t, because of the race.

I know it was just one day, and am very much in favour of these events. I love the fact that Galway is such an attractive place to host them, but don’t be selling them to me by telling me that we are going to be financially better off in any way. 

Of course there are magic moments, like the night of the first Volvo Stopover, when the sailors were completely blown away to find thousands of mad ecstatic Galwegians in the docks to greet them at silly o’clock in the morning

But now that it’s all gone horribly wrong, the Chamber of Commerce is worried about how media coverage of the event’s outstanding debts might affect Galway's good image.
Galway’s image? How very dare they?

My image of Galway will be much improved when I see the smiling faces of paid workers, suppliers and performers.

Until the last debt is finally paid to the last struggling small business, I don’t want to read any cloying newspaper copy about how a report says it was really a great success. Reports find the answers that their questions are designed to seek. When the word ‘bailout’ is used in conjunction with an event, rather than a boat or country, it’s hard to believe in any boost to our local economy.

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