Olympic afterglow could light up engineering sector

Features editor

It’s not over yet. While the newspapers are still full of Olympic heroes and London blinks and wonders whether that all really happened, the Paralympic athletes are in the final phase of their training programmes ahead of their games, which will once again see the Olympic Park and the other venues fill with spectators and echo with cheers. It looks like this might be the first Paralympics to sell out — I certainly can’t get hold of any Velodrome tickets — which is good news for everyone.

It also means that the spotlight will remain on British engineering for another two weeks, with the stadium, aquatic centre and so on featuring on TV screens, the internet and newspapers and in the public imagination. While the Paralympics doesn’t have the blanket worldwide coverage that the Olympics has, it will still keep the achievements of the Olympics planning organisations — which, it had to be said, surprised even us — in the public eye.

My colleague Stephen Harris has already asked whether the Olympics will raise the profile of engineering; it has to be said, this is doubtful; architects tend to get the praise for the buildings, and the infrastructure underpinning the games is, quite rightly, invisible. Just as important, however, is whether the Games will truly be the showcase for British engineering in the economic sense. Will the engineering companies involved be able to claim their due credit and capitalise by gaining new business?

The draconian barriers to publicity to protect Olympic sponsors can’t have helped —many companies involved in Olympic projects were prevented from publicising their involvement because of clauses in their contracts. Once the Paralympics are over, these restrictions should be lifted.

Meanwhile, it’s encouraging that some of the companies involved have been approached by the organising committees for the next Olympics in Rio for advice or involvement in their projects.

The truly impressive thing about the London games isn’t the venues, their design and construction; it’s that everything worked together, seamlessly and — barring the odd unfortunate glitch with confusion over flags, which we can put down to human error — without any hitches. A megaproject involving thousands of people over a wide area, bringing together transport, communications technology, timing, logistics, lighting, heating and ventilation and everything else, planned over seven years, all came together. This is the kind of thing that we’ve been told for years that the UK can’t do anymore. Well, in the words of one US presidential campaign, yes we can.

British industry has to capitalise on this. The Olympics afterglow could carry on years into the future, giving some of the country’s hardest-pressed sectors, such as construction, a boost that they sorely need. It’s not going to lift the recession overnight, but it could help build a platform for recovery, if it’s handled well.