Jeremy Hunt
Olympics minister Jeremy Hunt is justifying extra cash for London 2012 ceremonies to promote Britain to the world (Reuters/Ricardo Moraes)

An extra £41m of taxpayers' cash is being poured into the opening and closing ceremonies of the London 2012 Olympic Games because it is "an extraordinary business opportunity".

Speaking to MPs on the culture, media and sport select committee, Olympics minister Jeremy Hunt said an extravagant spectacle at the start and the end of the games would improve Britain's appeal to tourists, students and investors.

"I see it as an extraordinary business opportunity," he said. "If you get something like the Olympics right, you'll strengthen our national brand."

Adrian Sanders, a Liberal Democrat member of the committee, questioned Hunt on how at a time of national austerity, when public spending is being slashed and Britain's economy is stagnant, it is justified to double the ceremonies budget.

"It is a lot of money, but it's not just less than the Chinese spent on the Beijing opening ceremony. It's also less than the Canadians spent on their opening ceremony and it's less than the Russians are planning to spend on their opening ceremony," Hunt replied.

Hunt asked MPs to judge him on the expenditure after the games, when the results can be quantified.

He also tried to reassure MPs that the Olympics would remain within its £9.5bn budget.

"You could never say never, but we are as confident as we reasonably can be," he said.

There is £800m left in the budget, with £300m of that already allocated.

"Obviously, the closer you get to the games, the less likely it is that you'll get to spend half a million pounds," Hunt said.