Olympics: have london businesses dropped the ball?

Olympics business opportunities speed past.

With just days to go until the start of the Olympics, London is heading down the home straight. But as athletes settle into the Olympic village, many businesses and their employees have yet to begin their preparations.

London expects 5.3m visitors over the next few weeks. Already overstretched, the capital’s transport system could face nearly a million extra journeys per day. But despite repeated warnings of unprecedented disruption, a Populus poll commissioned by Global Action Plan has found that businesses nationwide are unprepared, with only a fraction putting in place contingency plans to avoid the expected commuter and delivery chaos. Just one in five employees say their company has a strategy for the transport of essential goods and services crucial to keep their business running. In London, only a quarter of employees say their business has plans to help them get to work.

How will companies and commuters cope? Worst case scenarios – involving people sleeping in offices – are perhaps not as unrealistic as first assumed, with several lines already closed for many hours before the Games have even started. Yet despite these travel difficulties the reality is that businesses are missing the opportunity offered by the Olympics to boost productivity, reduce costs, cut the damage they cause to the environment, and radically change travel and work patterns.

Telefonica O2 recently held a flexible working day at their head office to prepare for this summer’s disruption. Just 109 cars arrived in the car park that day compared to an average of 1,100. By taking so many cars off the road carbon emissions were cut by 12,500kgs. For staff, a survey found that 88 per cent of employees felt that they were as least as productive as normal on this flexible working day. A third felt they were more productive, with over half of respondents saying the time they spent commuting was used for working instead.

The Olympics are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for businesses to revolutionise the way they work and travel. Although the Olympic clock has reached its final countdown, it is not too late for businesses to prepare for the chaos. Our five point plan offers businesses clear, practical and simple steps they can take to avoid the chaos of the next few weeks and the longer term.And it’s not just the athletes at the Games that should compete. Offering prizes and providing quarterly feedback of miles travelled and carbon saved can foster a friendly spirit of competition and collective responsibility to reduce commuting and business travel.

It’s a win-win situation for both employers and employees, changing work and travel patterns for good. Even if plans are not put in place in time – the Olympics can be the catalyst to thinking about doing things differently.

12 years ago in Sydney, the Olympic Games resulted in 24 per cent of Sydney employees changing their working hours and 22 per cent worked remotely during the games. Replicated here, businesses can create a meaningful green Olympic legacy, not just in London but throughout the UK.

Have london businesses dropped the ball? Photograph, Getty Images

Trewin Restorik is the CEO of Global Action Plan.

Getty Images.
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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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