19 November 2014

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The Scottish Review is published weekly by the Institute of Contemporary Scotland

Editor: Kenneth Roy
Deputy Editor: Islay McLeod

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A legacy of
unanswered
questions

Commonwealth House, Chairman Smith, Minister Robison

I
As we reported last week, the organisers of the Commonwealth Games were mistaken in their brazen public assertion that the event finished 'well within budget', the truth being that it finished £51m over the 2013 budget presented to Audit Scotland, £121m over the 2010 budget presented to the Scottish Parliament and £202m over the 2007 budget presented to the Commonwealth Games Federation. Still, the colossal spend of £575m could conceivably be justified by reference to the much-hyped 'legacy'.

Whether a tourist bounce will be part of the legacy remains to be seen. Otherwise, apart from a few dozen small local projects, we have not heard a great deal about legacy since early August, when the Scottish Government posted a post-games newsletter online.

Under the heading 'Legacy 2014', the document included the blog of 'Games minister' Shona Robison and a poem by Liz Lochhead. When we checked yesterday, Ms Robison's blog had disappeared – not much of a legacy – though the poem was still there.

Three months on, 'Legacy 2014' continues to be dominated by exciting news of the Scotland's Best initiative, which aims to get 1,000 unemployed young people (under the age of 24) into work by next March. In the immediate aftermath of the closing ceremony, Alex Salmond announced that Scotland's Best 'will be geared up to youngsters who have volunteered at the games'.

The first minister told the media: 'We are offering these young people a terrific opportunity to gain vital skills, experience and qualifications that will better equip them in the workplace. This is a true games legacy'.

Intrigued by the suggestion of a true games legacy, we contacted Skills Development Scotland, the public agency which is responsible for Scotland's Best. We asked the agency how many volunteers – 'Clyde-siders', as they were known – had been given places on the scheme.

This is the reply we received:

The volunteers at the Commonwealth Games were a diverse group. Many were over the age of 24 and were in employment – a large number were professionals who had taken time out from their full-time jobs to volunteer at the games, so they were not seeking employment when the games ended.

There was nothing surprising about this statement. It confirmed anecdotal impressions of the admirable volunteer squad. But where did it leave Mr Salmond's 'true games legacy' if, in fact, comparatively few of the volunteers were even eligible for Scotland's Best?

We wrote back to Skills Development Scotland and suggested politely that they had not answered our question. We asked them to tell us exactly how many – if any – Clyde-siders had been offered places. The second response was more defensive. It informed us that 'those [volunteers] who met the Scotland's Best eligibility criteria could choose to apply to the employability programme' and that 'they could then choose to offer information about having volunteered at the Commonwealth Games'.

Still no figure – though with a tacit acknowledgement that the relevant stats could be produced from the files. And the reason for no figure?

Due to data protection legislation we are unable to access the volunteer information held by Glasgow 2014.

Ah, that old chestnut, data protection! Words wearily familiar to the inquiring journalist: words that effectively close down even the most reasonable request.

Glasgow 2014 Ltd is a company chaired by Lord Smith of Kelvin, the man who claims that the Commonwealth Games finished 'well within budget', a claim supported in the Scottish Parliament by the departing first minister. This is the company which organised the games and disposed of several hundred million pounds of public money.

It has yet to produce its final accounts. But it seems that its offices in Albion Street, Glasgow, have already been vacated – or that the telephone is no longer being answered. We have repeatedly dialled the number. Repeatedly it rings out.

II
If anyone had picked up the phone, we would have asked the same question: where is the evidence that the 'true games legacy' produced a single place on the employability programme?

We have no confidence that the answer would have been forthcoming. Glasgow 2014 Ltd has never been noted for its transparency; indeed at one stage it declared that 'as a private company it is not subject to the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002'. If data protection does not completely dispose of an awkward media inquiry, exemption from freedom of information – so often the second line of defence – will finish it off.

But there are more important residual issues hanging over Glasgow 2014 than the relatively minor irritation of Scotland's Best being held up by Alex Salmond as a legacy project when it is nothing of the kind.

If we are looking for 'a true games legacy', we should look elsewhere: for example, to the association, never scrutinised, between Glasgow 2014 Ltd and Selex ES, which won the contract to provide perimeter fencing, CCTV and 'security management systems' at 20 venues and in the athletes' village. Shona Robison extended a warm personal welcome to Selex ES as a member of the 'games family', but there was no mention, then or subsequently, of the value of this contract to an outfit which is no stranger to controversy.

Selex ES, which is owned by one of the world's largest arms companies, supplies radar technology for drones employed by the state of Israel and its other clients include several states with an abysmal human rights record, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Pakistan. Selex ES, then, is a company with reputational problems. But these problems can only have been eased by the abject fashion in which the organisers of Glasgow 2014 fell over themselves to include them in the 'games family' – at a cost (within a security budget of £90m) that should be public knowledge, like so much else about Glasgow 2014.

Will the terms of the deal with Selex ES ever be known? Doubtful. Always assuming there was someone answering the telephone, any request could be brushed off by pleading exemption from freedom of information. The public's only hope of obtaining such knowledge would be through a robust inquiry by the public spending watchdog Audit Scotland.

Meanwhile, Lord Smith of Kelvin – the man who is tasked with shaping Scotland's destiny – has still not explained why he insists that the games finished well within budget. It seems that unanswered questions about money are destined to be 'a true games legacy'.

Kenneth Roy is editor of the Scottish Review