By Dave Watt.
Interesting question, isn’t it? Have the good citizens of Aberdeen always been associated with a bunch of credulous, vacant-eyed, loose-jawed dingbats who you just know would buy a bunch of shares for a spurious gold mine in Kemnay if approached by some fast-talking sleazebag?
If the World Corporate Games held in Aberdeen ten years ago this week were anything to go by, then I’m afraid the answer is probably a loud and resounding ‘Yes’.
To be fair to the present ruling junta, and, I’m afraid we must, the Corporate Games shambles was enacted under the auspices of New Labour who were running the city at that time. So, gentle reader, come with us now back to the year 2000 and the World Corporate Games fiasco.
In 2000, the government and council had been busily making cuts in social services but curiously found itself free to pay through the nose, ears and various other orifices – and via Grampian Enterprise Ltd (GEL) – for having the World Corporate Games held in our fair city.
Say, does this notion sound at all familiar to anyone? ‘Oh my God, we’re so broke that we have to make desperate cuts in badly-needed social welfare services. Hold on a minute though, here’s a guy with an utterly moonstruck, loony-tunes scheme which will provide absolutely no benefit to the citizens whatsoever- even if it works. Holy shit. Let’s bust that piggy bank wide open.’
GEL took them at their word and blew their entire tourist budget for the year on promoting the Games. That was half a million pounds of taxpayers’ money. GEL’s Chief Executive, Ed Gillespie, described the Games coming to Aberdeen as, ‘a tremendous coup’. Hotels and restaurants were advised to prepare for a rush of customers for the period of the games and it seemed like the 1849 Klondyke was about to be re-run in the Granite City. An estimated ten thousand visitors bringing six million pounds were going to descend on Aberdeen, spending money just as quickly as they could get their wallets out.
Demonstrations by progressive groups against an alleged waste of public money on the Games, were led by the redoubtable Bill Knight’s Grampian Pensioners’ Forum who helped form AAG (Aberdeen Against the Games), and were denounced by the great and the good. Aberdeen North Labour MSP Elaine Thomson urged protestors to ‘stay away’ and assured the public that the games would provide much needed cash for the local economy as well as promoting a healthy lifestyle. There was a great deal of talk about the event engendering ‘networking’ amongst the competitors which would bring much needed prosperity to the city. Obviously, our elders and betters were not aware of the potential of the telephone or e-mail at this time in our history.
However, apparently encouraged by a vigorous and lucid opposition, intrepid local journalist David Leask did some serious delving around and found a few minor anomalies in the envisaged Golden Age that was about to descend on the city.
- When the Corporate Games had been previously held in Dublin, the fortunate locals had a mere £75,000 lifted out of their wallets to pay for this same corporate jamboree – just over one sixth of the half million quid that the Granite City paid.
- The previous Corporate Games in Montevideo were actually called off a few days before when not enough people turned up.
- Paris refused to pay the £500,000 required as they felt they could run the Games better themselves.
- The Games organisers were a husband and wife company called Sport for Life and this fortunate couple, Mr & Mrs Ken O’Bryan, had awarded themselves a cool £200,000 of the aforesaid taxpayers’ money. Questioned about this, Mr O’Bryan stated that he felt the fee was quite fair as ‘we are taking all the risks here’
As the days went by and the event unfolded, it appears that the Golden Age was to be put on hold. Irate hoteliers, having been advised to put aside rooms for the expected rush at a discount found themselves with empty hotels. For example, The Waterside Inn in Peterhead had been asked to reserve its 109 rooms and found itself with twenty rooms filled instead. This was replicated all across the region and comments from hoteliers ranged from ‘very disappointing’ to ‘an absolute farce’ as nothing like the expected numbers turned up for the event. Restaurants and cafes in the city centre had empty tables and tumbleweed blew across Union Street.
Aberdeen’s shot at the World Corporate Games was over.
GEL is still on the go under the guise Scottish Enterprise Grampian, although Mr Gillespie is no longer with them.
Aberdeen North MSP Elaine Thomson was voted out in 2003 and replaced by the SNP’s Brian Adam who had had the temerity to express grave doubts about the Games before the whole show went pear-shaped.
The enterprising David Leask, presumably following the dictum that brains, like hearts, go where they are appreciated, is now working for the Herald in Glasgow.