Its a wet morning in London but the numbers do not lie: we have less than 100 days until the Olympics start in East London.
Very excited at all the events - the torch gets here in a few weeks and then spends 8weeks going round the country. Recently I spoke on the Olympics in the House of Commons: the highlights of the speech is here:
"The feature of this debate has been that Members of Parliament have attempted to do two things.
First, they have attempted to persuade their constituents that they do not have any Olympic tickets. I, too, can assure my constituents that I have no Olympic tickets, despite having made great efforts.
Secondly, all of us have tried to show an Olympic discipline in which we could be proficient. I was very impressed by the speech by my hon. Friend Richard Harrington, who is, sadly, no longer in his place. I understood his description of how for him a “marathon” was a large bar of chocolate to be eaten regularly. I once ran the New York marathon for Children with Leukaemia. Most people experience “the wall” during a marathon. Some reach it at 10 miles, but I did so at 20 miles. When I hit the wall and approached the point where I felt like stopping, I was told by a gentleman in the Bronx, “Don’t stop there man. They’ll only steal your shoes!” Nothing could have encouraged me more to start sprinting at that stage.
I am pleased to discuss the north-east tonight, as it is seeing a great deal of the Olympic torch and of the Olympic movement. I agreed with almost everything that the Chair of the Select Committee said, but at one point he said that the eyes of the world will be on London. I accept that that the eyes of the world will largely be on London and its surrounding regions, but if London is the hub, the spokes of the Olympic wheel are going to various other parts of the nation. There is no question but that the north-east will participate in a great deal of the work in terms of the Olympic flame.
As we know, half the world’s population will be watching the Olympics; 83% of our schools are involved in the Get Set programme, with 508 schools games taking place thus far; 40,000 journalists—we greatly welcome them all—will be covering the games and would expose every one of the Minister’s errors but for the fact that none will be made; and the torch relay is to cover 8,000 miles around the country. I greatly welcome the fact that Newcastle will host nine football matches, including the men’s quarter final. I can assure hon. Members that that will take place at St James’ Park, not in some place that none of us have heard of called the “Sports Direct arena”, although we gratefully accept the sponsorship of the Sports Direct brand.
However, this is not all just about sporting events. Obviously I will be cheering people on, as will my constituent Steve Cram, the man who started the Kielder marathon—a man who has won Olympic medals and now lives just up the road from me in Hexham. We will be cheering on Matt Wells and other members of the Hexham community who are in the Olympic squads. But we must celebrate not only the sport but the business element, about which many have spoken.
I stress that it has been a fundamental feature of both the previous Government’s approach—to their great credit—and the present Government’s approach to buy British and to support local organisations. I pay due tribute to: Sotech in Durham, which has provided the roof cladding for the aquatics centre; Hart Door Systems Ltd, which has provided the roof shutters for the Olympic stadium; Hathaway roofing in County Durham, which has provided roof cladding for the international broadcasting centre, keeping all those 40,000 journalists nice and dry and warm; and International Paint in Newcastle, which has supplied the paint for aquatics centre.
The other good thing is that the north-east will see the torch almost more than any other region. We will have it for five days, when it will take in things such as the angel of the north in Gateshead, the Penshaw monument in Sunderland, and Hadrian’s wall. Friday 15 June will be a spectacular day—I recommend this to people above all else—because the torch will travel from the Tyne bridge to the quayside by zip wire. I have doubts about this, because I am nervous that the torch might fall into the water or get otherwise extinguished. However, I am sure, as the organisers have assured me, that that will not happen. That will be a memorable event, and then on Saturday 16 June, I and many of my constituents will be welcoming the torch—indeed, many of them will be carrying it—as it travels across the Hexham constituency and down into County Durham.
We will also have the great benefit of the hundreds of cultural events, which will be based not only in London and the regions around it but in the north-east. I welcome the fact that the north-east band Folkestra,which I heard play fantastically well when the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport came to Newcastle on 26 January, will be playing as part of the cultural Olympiad. I respectfully submit that that is another wonderful example of making the regions part of the main Olympic movement.
The long and the short of all this is that there has to be a wider element, and I wish briefly to discuss the business impact on tourism, which will be huge. I understand that approximately £39 million is being spent on the advertising campaign that will promote Britain as a tourist venue. That is an excellent thing, because we have the chance to showcase this great country. Although the Olympics and the Paralympics will last for just six weeks, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to showcase Great Britain. I warmly welcome what the Government and the previous Government, to their great credit, have done in this respect.
We also need to play our part in supporting tourism, because with the 20.12% discounting scheme and the 2012 tourism initiatives this is surely the year, above all others, when we should be “staycationing”. I shall be walking the entire 270 miles of the Pennine way, starting in Edale, in the great county of Derbyshire. We will travel all the way north through South Yorkshire, North Yorkshire, Cumbria and Durham and into the great county of Northumberland, where we shall journey the Pennine way through my constituency for five days and then finish up in Scotland. We will be doing that for charity, but on the way I will take advantage of many bed and breakfasts, restaurants and, of course, the odd pub or two. We should all invite our respective organisations to “staycation” and to support tourism in the best way they can, because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Pre-Olympic training camps are coming to the north, so we will welcome, for example, the Sri Lankans and the Colombians to Newcastle and the north-east. We will also be in a position to have our own games, as multiple local schools are holding multiple local games - I am a big supporter of the East Tynedale games.