Games on, but can the Gov­ern­ment de­liver?

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - ROUNDABOUT -

Fresh re­ports of a mount­ing bill for stag­ing the 2012 Olympics have re­newed crit­i­cism that the Games could cost the tax­payer too much. In an exclusive ar­ti­cle for the Kent Mes­sen­ger Group, the shadow Con­ser­va­tive sports min­is­ter and Faver­sham MP Hugh Robert­son

out­lines his own con­cerns and calls on the Gov­ern­ment to be more trans­par­ent about what is hap­pen­ing

When The Kent Mes­sen­ger Group asked me to write an ar­ti­cle about the Lon­don 2012 Olympic Games, they wanted me to an­swer two ques­tions. First, what is hap­pen­ing over the Olympic bud­get and, sec­ond, what does host­ing the Olympic Games mean for Kent? The first thing to un­der­stand about the Olympic bud­get is it is not one bud­get but three.

Re­gen­er­a­tion

The first of th­ese bud­gets is a re­gen­er­a­tion bud­get. Orig­i­nally set at just over £1bil­lion and funded by the Ex­che­quer from gen­eral tax­a­tion, it is largely com­posed of money set aside for the re­gen­er­a­tion of the Lower Lea Val­ley. The sec­ond bud­get is for con­struc­tion. It was orig­i­nally set at £2.4bn, and to be funded by the Na­tional Lot­tery, Lon­don coun­cil tax­pay­ers and the Lon­don De­vel­op­ment Agency (LDA). This money will be used to build the Olympic Park. The third bud­get is the op­er­at­ing bud­get, or the money needed to stage the Games, which is set at £2bn. This will be raised from the private sec­tor, the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee (from its share of broad­cast­ing rev­enue and spon­sor­ship), and from tick­et­ing and mer­chan­dis­ing. This is money raised from the private sec­tor and not a bud­get that is caus­ing any con­cern. The cur­rent con­tro­versy, there­fore, cen­tres on the first and sec­ond bud­gets. Tessa Jow­ell, Sec­re­tary of State for Cul­ture, Me­dia and Sport, re­vealed in Novem­ber the con­struc­tion bud­get had risen to £3.3bn, largely due to the de­ci­sion to ap­point a de­liv­ery part­ner, cost­ing £400m. Given the Gov­ern­ment must have con­sid­ered at an early stage whether this func­tion was best car­ried out by the private sec­tor, or the Olympic De­liv­ery Author­ity, it was in­com­pe­tent not to have al­lowed for it at the time of the bid. How­ever, big­ger prob­lems re­main un­re­solved for which the Gov­ern­ment is en­tirely to blame. There is con­tro­versy over whether the re­gen­er­a­tion and con­struc­tion bud­gets will be sub­ject to VAT, as well as what level of project con­tin­gency will be ap­plied. Lon­don Mayor Ken Liv­ing­stone sug­gested the Chan­cel­lor is hold­ing out for 60 per cent. Again, both of th­ese is­sues were en­tirely pre­dictable at the time of the bid and should have been added to the orig­i­nal bud­get. When you add in the likely costs of se­cu­rity – bud­geted at £190m but likely to cost £1bn – it is clear there is now a sub­stan­tial ex­tra bill. The sad thing about this whole chap­ter is that there are many peo­ple, my­self in­cluded, who sup­ported the bid to stage the 2012 Olympics and wish to con­tinue to sup­port the Games. How­ever, it is vi­tal the Gov­ern­ment pro­duces an open, hon­est and trans­par­ent bud­get, as a mat­ter of ur­gency. This will help to re­store con­fi­dence in the Games – not least so the private sec­tor will come for­ward with the con­sid­er­able amounts of private spon­sor­ship nec­es­sary for a suc­cess­ful Olympics. Kent has the po­ten­tial to ben­e­fit enor­mously from the county’s prox­im­ity to the Games, al­though we are hand­i­capped by the re­quire­ment to op­er­ate within the strait­jacket of a ridicu­lous re­gional struc­ture.

Des­ti­na­tion

I hope Kent will be­come a des­ti­na­tion of choice for train­ing camps and for post-com­pe­ti­tion leave. Given our close­ness to the Strat­ford site, I ex­pect a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of Kent busi­nesses to win con­tracts to ser­vice the Games and hope Kent peo­ple, both young and old, will take the op­por­tu­nity to act as Olympic vol­un­teers. The Games needs 70,000 vol­un­teers, many of which should come from Kent. Fi­nally, and most im­por­tantly, it is vi­tal that we hon­our the key com­mit­ment we made to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity when we won the right to host the Games – namely to en­able young peo­ple through sport – some­thing that will ben­e­fit ev­ery­one liv­ing in Kent. If host­ing the Olympics leads to a re­gen­er­a­tion of sport in this coun­try and makes peo­ple hap­pier, health­ier and bet­ter in­te­grated, then we will be able to look back on this project with pride. If it sim­ply leads to six weeks of world-class sport with no re­gen­er­a­tion out­side Lon­don’s East End, we’ll have missed a once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­nity.

Hugh Robert­son MP

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