Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Was the Tour de France Worth It for Yorkshire?

The start of the Tour de France in Yorkshire this summer was certainly greeted enthusiastically, but some still question the cost of staging this event. So was it worth that investment? The evaluation report published last week* certainly thinks so (NB: This covers the Cambridge to London stage as well as the two Yorkshire days). I've looked at this evaluation with a critical eye.

On the plus side, there’s some detailed research behind its assessment of economic return. This considers negative aspects such as disruption caused by traffic and road closures, as well as the obvious positives. It also bases its assessment mainly on immediate impact rather than relying on longer-term effects on business and tourism. Whilst long-term factors are mentioned, their impact will decline as other regions (and other countries) stage different events to attract visitors back, so any financial estimate here would be highly speculative.

In some respects the report may even understate some benefits, because it doesn’t put a financial value on what difference the event made for spectators and communities (as a Social Return on Investment analysis would). The excitement and community spirit come across anecdotally but are not quantified in any way beyond counting spectator numbers, although there are figures for people who say they will cycle more.

So far so good, but I also have some criticisms of the report. The first is simply its presentation. Yes, by all means use attractive presentation with pictures, infographics and stories, but this is over the top. The huge glossy quotes are all from event organisers or sponsors, negatives feedback is downplayed, and the whole thing reads more like a sales brochure than an objective evaluation. It gives the impression that the outcome was a foregone conclusion and this is just a PR exercise.

Second, the actual costs of staging the event are unclear. A figure of £31m is implied for the full three days, but there is no detailed breakdown of where this came from and no clearly stated return on investment (ROI) ratio.

Third, it doesn’t consider ‘displacement’ – if a million visitors to Yorkshire spent £87.9m over the TDF period, that’s a million people spending less elsewhere. At least some of Yorkshire’s gain will have been at the expense of other regions or other countries, so this isn’t all ‘new money’. Of course, you may feel (like me) that an economic shift of this kind towards Yorkshire is a good thing. I’m less convinced about the need to shift economic benefits towards London though, as Day 3 did.

Last and probably most serious, the report has no real conclusions other than the value achieved, and no recommendations. Should Yorkshire host the event again in the future? What should it do differently if so? Why was the Cambridge to London stage less successful than the Yorkshire stages? None of this is asked, let alone answered.

Personally, I believe that the benefits to Yorkshire from the Tour de France fully justify the money invested. But I'm a lot less sure whether the money paid for this evaluation report was well spent.

*Full report at http://www.leeds.gov.uk/docs/141203%20THREE%20INSPIRATIONAL%20DAYS%20FULL%20FINAL.PDF

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

What Works for Well-Being

Does David Cameron read my blogs? Sadly, probably not, but I'm still pleased to see his recent announcement of the What Works Centre for Well-Being. It picks up on themes from my earlier blogs: government should not just measure well-being (which it does through the Office for National Statistics), but actually do something about it!

The third annual ONS well-being survey, completed a couple of months back, shows a further small rise in ‘average happiness levels’ across the UK. It’s easy to attribute this to gradual economic recovery, and there is no doubt that, like it or not, money and personal happiness are linked. At least up to a certain level, higher income levels generally mean higher life satisfaction. But this is not the full story; a host of other factors including health, relationships, employment, housing and the local environment are also involved.

The government-funded What Works research centre aims to understand what national and local governments, along with voluntary and business partners, can do to increase well-being. They shouldn’t have to search too far, as a great deal of evidence is already available on this. In particular, well-being valuation is commonly used as part of Social Return on Investment (SROI) analysis – see my blog of 7 May 2014 for an explanation of this technique.

A number of databases already list well-being valuations of this type (for example the HACT Social Values Calculator). In simple terms, these show that some factors have a much greater effect than others on people's well-being. For example, health problems – particularly mental health – can have a huge negative impact on well-being, whilst other factors such as the quality of the local neighbourhood (provided people feel reasonably safe) are much less significant.

Personal relationships too are hugely significant – although much more difficult for government to affect. Family-friendly policies are all very well, but people make relationships, not tax incentives!

Personally, I see these themes as linked to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (see illustration). As people's basic needs are fulfilled, their attention turns to more aspirational aspects of their lives, and hence their well-being and overall life satisfaction increases. But of course anything missing from the ‘fundamentals’ is likely to mean a big negative effect.

Government certainly cannot control all of these factors, but it can influence some. Conclusions from this type of research could help to shape government policy and prioritise spending in the future. They also emphasise the importance for all types of organisations – private, public and third sector – to consider how what they do affects people's well-being. This doesn't mean that everyone has to conduct a full SROI evaluation, but it does me that we should all ensure we understand the real impact our work has on the lives of those we work with – beyond just pounds and pence.