The Department for International Trade has just helped host an international sporting event more than 6,000 miles away. Richard Johnstone finds out how they did it, and why this could the first of many such projects for government
When the Olympic flame went out in east London on 12 August 2012, it concluded more than seven years of UK government preparations to host the world’s biggest sporting event.
However, the closing ceremony did not end civil servants’ role in running global athletic jamborees. Within five years, officials were helping the government of Peru deliver the world’s third biggest sporting event, the Pan American Games, and its para-sport counterpart, 6,316 miles away in Lima.
In 2017, the Department for International Trade began work to help the country prepare to host the 2019 games under a first-of-its-kind agreement to sell UK civil service expertise in a government to government (G2G) services deal.
The scheme was led by Michael Charlton, the managing director of investment at DIT and senior responsible officer, who explained to CSW that it came about when the Peruvians realised they needed some outside help organising the event.
“Between 2013 and 2016 there was not a huge amount of preparation,” he said. “The Pan Am athletes’ village hadn’t been built, and none of the other infrastructure had been either. So the Peruvians realised they had some catching up to do, against a very tight deadline.”
Lima then sought help through a G2G deal, holding discussions with governments around the world.
In the race to win this deal, the UK had its own catching up to do. It had never engaged in any such arrangements outside of defence projects, and competitors had a head start.
“We found ourselves in competition with the Canadians, who already had a part of their government which sought to sell services around the world,” Charlton says.
DIT believes the Canadian offer was to deliver the whole event, while the UK offered to work alongside the Peruvians to transfer expertise – a plan which the country found more attractive. In 2017, the G2G agreement was signed and the UK was contracted to advise on all aspects of the games’ delivery.
A cross-government team was put together to run the project. DIT led efforts in London, assisted by the Government Commercial Service, the Government Legal Department and the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, while Foreign Office and DIT representatives in the UK’s embassy worked with the Peruvian officials.
The team also included members of the sports economy team, first formed by DIT’s predecessor body UK Trade and Investment after the London games to promote UK expertise – both public and private – to global sporting events.
DIT saw the opportunity to use the legacy of 2012 to both raise revenue for the government – the contract was worth almost £60m – and help UK companies win business. In the end, British firms won over £100m of work through involvement with Lima’s games.
Kelly Allen, who joined DIT in July 2017 from the Cabinet Office as programme director for the G2G deal explains how the department used the 2012 Olympic experience.
“We were lucky enough to secure, for a couple of our IPA reviews, current or ex civil servants [who had been involved],” she said. “Sarah Cox, who was director in DCMS for performance and planning for London 2012, and Robert Raine, who was in the Home Office and worked on security for the games, took part in our IPA reviews as review team leads. It was incredibly helpful to have their experience, both as part of London 2012 and the civil service, to critically assess where we were with our programme.”
But the plan needed more than just help from 2012 alumni, as the department had to build government’s capacity to run civilian G2Gs projects.
Allen (left, with Charlton, and DIT deputy director Carlos Chau, right, with the games mascot) highlights that while colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the sports economy team advised on the practicalities of running major events, there was no experience on how government should organise itself in order to enable a G2G. “In terms of best practice this was like starting from scratch,” she says
The department formed a team in London to run the civil service elements of the project, while a cadre of consultants, peaking at around 250, helped provide advice to the Peruvian government on the ground, says Allen.
“We had a permanent team situated in Lima for the infrastructure, and then we had a series of subject matter experts who travelled out to Lima to advise on different functional areas, covering everything from broadcasting, ticketing, marketing, security, accreditation. Everything you could think of that you need for an event we had a subject matter expert over there doing that.”
The London team supported the experts on the ground and provided a “resourcing hub” to recruit and retain them. Both Charlton and Allen visited numerous times, up to the opening ceremony when they saw all their hard work come to fruition.
Many of the venues also had to be built from scratch, and it was here that the UK government’s backing for the project helped companies win big contracts.
"We knew all along with that effective transportation planning was essential, but giving a sense of urgency to our Peruvian colleagues was difficult"
British companies ranging from engineering firms Mace and Arup to branding specialist CSM Live worked on the project, and two firms (Mace and Pattern Architects) have also established permanent offices in Lima.
“We wanted to position UK companies to win, in an open and transparent way, the procurement opportunities that would arise out of the games,” Charlton says.
“The arrangement we set up with the organising committee was that essentially they paid us in advance. We then recruited the subject matter experts that they required and deployed them – though they always had the right to veto who was deployed to make sure that they fitted in. We then acted as a paymaster to the UK companies and UK subject matter experts, so we completely de-risked the opportunity for them to work in what otherwise would have been seen as a more risky marketplace, which they may have shied away from.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing though. The IPA’s first review in July 2017 gave the project a red risk rating, as, at that time, “we didn’t have the right infrastructure in place in the department to deliver the programme,” Allen says. “In addition to that, the organising committee delivery schedule was very high risk, [so] it was a combination of the two things.”
“To be quite honest, most people, whether on the ground in Lima or within this department, thought we were taking on the almost impossible.” Charlton adds.
“For me, one of the great successes is the fact that we were able to deploy some of those of international practices, with the UK advisers, in such an accelerated period of time.”
Reflecting on how the project developed, Charlton says that dealing with cultural differences was one of the main problems.
“I think we all struggled with the cultural affinity initially,” he says.
For example, the IPA tried to use its project management toolkit in the way it would for any other project.
“Many of their recommendations related to how Kelly and I interacted with our Peruvian counterparts, but because they weren’t used to working in a Peruvian environment, some of those recommendations just wouldn’t have worked in a context which wasn’t an Anglo Saxon context.”
One example the IPA raised with the team was the best way to report on monthly progress, and escalation method. Unusually for government, they ended up using WhatsApp as that worked best for the Peruvians.
Other difficulties arose because the department was not the decision maker.
“We were there very much in an advisory capacity,” Charlton recalls. “Some of the risks associated with the programme were actually risks that sat with the organising committee. Getting our heads round what that meant with the IPA was a bit challenging to begin with. But we absolutely got there.”
A key example was transport planning. “Because Lima is one of the most congested cities in the world in terms of traffic, we knew all along with that effective transportation planning was going to be essential, but trying to give a sense of urgency to our Peruvian colleagues was quite difficult,” Charlton says.
“We could see the areas we were advising on were going quite well, but there were lots of risks associated with the transportation plan and how it would operate in practice. The IPA was really keen for us to intervene. But we could only advise, which we did.”
There were indeed transport issues during the games, “as we expected”, Charlton says, but none so big they could not be overcome.
“The risk was always that if the transportation was a nightmare, that would come back to haunt the games and therefore hit the UK legacy as we were the key advisers.
“That kind of reputational risk was something that was constant in our thinking, but it wasn’t always possible to have as tight a grip on it as we would if It was taking place in the UK.”
Despite these niggles, the event was hailed a success by Peru and the rest of the world.
Running from 26 July to 11 August, the games saw 175,000 tourists visit Peru, with half a million Peruvians attending 419 events, contested by 6,680 athletes from 41 nations. The subsequent Parapan Games hosted 370 events in 17 sports, with a record 1,850 athletes taking part.
Pan Am Sports – the rights holder akin to the International Olympic Committee – and political figures from the president of Peru down, have lauded the UK’s involvement, according to Charlton.
The team is now helping to develop a “G2G Playbook” that could be used in future deals, and, separately, the Cabinet Office has created an International Government Service to further promote UK government services internationally.
Charlton says the project succeeded because “the Peruvians ended up having a more British outlook and us having a more Peruvian outlook”.
“Thinking about all the challenges we faced over the last two and a half years…to see them put on such a wonderful games was fantastic”
What can we learn from the Peruvians’ approach?
“A lot,” Charlton says. “They had a can-do attitude against this Herculean task and could react to things in the moment perhaps more adeptly than we sometimes do, because we are more about forward planning.”
Allen was struck by the managerial style of her Peruvian counterparts. “We saw really, really good examples of leadership of a workforce against what looked like an impossible task. Not that this doesn’t exist in the UK, but that kind of focused, dedicated leadership of a project that is challenging was really admirable.”
Both Charlton and Allen are proud of their role in helping surmount these obstacles.
“I had been to nearly all of the major cluster sites [events mostly took place on four sites in the city, called clusters] and seen them as stretches of dirt or in some cases rubbish tips. Seeing what they’ve become, it is really quite extraordinary,” Charlton says. “I’m really proud to have my name, but also the department’s name, associated with such a project.”
“It felt wonderful to be at the opening ceremony and thinking about all the challenges we as a team, and the organising committee, faced over the last two and a half years. To see them put on such a wonderful games was fantastic,” Allen concludes.
“This was a huge task for DIT to take on and there were points at which the department was concerned about what the end result would look like, so it’s been really rewarding for us to be able to stand up and say that we’ve achieved this.”
This article was published online before the pre-election period began