Wednesday, November 08, 2006


July 6th 2005, the day the announcement came that London would host the Olympics, was the day I made the decision to hightail it to the other side of the world before the building starts as I live right next door to the site. It was probably the most sensible and considered decision that has been made in the context of this disaster which approaches with the speed and certainty of a scud missile.

I was working over in Wembley at the time and had a daily acquaintance with the havoc that can be wreaked whenever a British politician and a hardhat come into physical contact. It was known then that the stadium which was supposed to be completed in time to host World Cup fixtures this year would not be ready for that specific purpose. What wasn’t fully appreciated is that the stadium probably won’t even be finished in time for the 2012 Olympics. This is just as well because, probably, nothing else will be either. You realise after a while that the term ‘purpose built’ doesn’t have any real meaning in this country.

The news today that Olympic planners had left off the column in the ledger which says ‘VAT’ comes as no surprise. Since Culture Secretary, Tessa ‘The Scowl’ Jowell doesn’t even know her own house mortgage arrangements, she was never going to be the financial safe pair of hands to steer this one. I hope she hasn’t been selected for the national beach volley ball team. Ms Scowl has been unavailable for comment today, she is up against it organising the parliamentary Christmas party, to be held on March 13th.

Everyone is throwing up their hands in horror claiming that they didn’t realise they had to pay VAT. No wonder it looked like such a good deal on paper. According to today’s Guardian, Ms Scowl tried to explain it all away by saying the Olympic Delivery Agency (ODA) had not yet been established so its legal status could not be anticipated. That’s a bit like me popping into John Lewis and saying, ‘could you waive the VAT on these cushions please because I might get married next week’.

Still, I don’t know why anyone should be surprised. The rule of thumb for any building project in Britain is - quadruple the cost and triple the timeframe from the original estimate and you should narrowly avert bankruptcy. Slightly different rules apply on major landmarks though because of the large numbers of egos nestling in vast empty spaces under hardhats that are involved. Cost and time overruns are virtually inestimable because parliamentarians are trained not to give straight answers so getting a decision on door handles can be extremely difficult.

It’s not been a brilliant week for Mayor Ken. In addition to sharing in the ooops moment of the VAT revelation he also managed to get the snub from Venezuelan President Hugo ‘The Chav’ Chavez who remembered he had a hair appointment when Ken showed up to seal his famous oil deal. Looks like its going to be bicycle rickshaws to ferry Olympians around then.

A couple of weeks ago Jack Lemley quit as ODA chair, claiming that infighting had rendered it impossible to make any progress on the building work. Perhaps no one explained that this is normal as is racing in with the bulldozers before detailed drawings have been issued, much less planning approval gained. You’re always going to need holes in the ground for car parks, swimming pools etc so why not get on with a bit of digging. It gives the thousands of construction workers you’ve already engaged something to do and stops them skiving off and doing private jobs with the materials you stockpiled when B&Q were having a sale.

So now £250m has been added to the construction costs in VAT on the original estimate of £2.5bn before the first porta-loos have rolled in. London Council Tax payers are already paying an extra £20 a year. Scarily, no one is prepared to talk about who’s going to pay this VAT bill. The attitude is don’t worry about it – the most important thing is to get it finished. Yeah and hod carriers might fly.

When you think about how relatively small scale a project Wembley is – just one little stadium and an upgraded tube station; when you consider the pathetic Millennium Dome which cost nearly £1bn in 2000, what are the chances that this £2.5bn budget is going to do it? Here in East London we’ll be sitting in community centres cutting up crepe paper, sewing on sequins and teaching school children how to wave flags the night before the opening ceremony, I shouldn’t wonder.

It’s a shame that financial mismanagement, arguing the toss over absurd details and overrunning by upwards of a decade aren’t recognised Olympic events. We’d clean up. I wonder what else they’ve forgotten. Will Seb Coe be door-knocking a few days before asking if anyone will take a billet or be willing to set up a jumble sale and tombola to bring in extra cash. Will we be asked to each bring a bucketful of sand back from Tenerife or donate our Computers for Schools vouchers so they can buy a few Dells to send out the invite letters? Will we have to take turns in cutting up oranges? Will Vince from The Globe have to set up his karaoke for the closing ceremony?

I am not even going to start on the fantasy that is the vision for ‘the whole regeneration of East London’. We East Enders are as resistant to socio-economic mobility as any deprived community in the free world. Scowl and Ken might think they can instil in us a sense of community and raise our collective self-esteem by hiking our Council Tax bills and choking up our roads with their improved infrastructure but they will never, ever get us to buy this social inclusion bollocks. We just wouldn’t want to join a club that would have us as a member…


Groucho said...

Marry me and I'll never look at another horse.

Anonymous said...

I've got a couple of old mattresses. I was going to put them out for the council but maybe I should save them.

That's so pants said...

Groucho - I don't usually forget a face but in your case, I'll make an exception.

Anon - good idea. They need them for the high jump and pole vault.

Groucho said...

You're right Moosa - marriage is a wonderful institution but who wants to live in an institution?

Harpo said...

Beep. Beep