The Mayor of London Boris Johnson has objected to comments from the new Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt that the £9.3 billion Olympics budget is "not protected" from a spending review.
I think Boris is wrong and Jeremy is right. The suggestions that it would be impossible to find any savings and so less money from central Government would mean an extra Council Tax precept from Londoners is quite unreasonable.
The £9.3 billion the Olympics are already budgeted to cost does strike me as a quite a lot. It is already four times the original £2.4 billion we were told was the budget when we "won" the Olympic bid two years ago.
It should be acknowledged that the election of Boris as Mayor put a stop to any further cost overruns and this is one of his important achievements.
"My approach will be 'Citius, Altius, Fortius, sed non carius', which translates as 'Faster, Higher, Stronger, but not more expensive''."
But it seems reasonable that he should be asked to actually go further and find some savings on the vastly inflated budget he inherited. For instance the £350 million budget for the Media Centre. Is it being made of marble? What is wrong with a big tent? Should not the world's media be asked to pay their way? Or show some restraint in the armies of people they send along? Why can't the journalists pay for their own sandwiches?
Isn't the huge £1.9 billion Contingency Fund appalling lax? I would like to see some more detail on the £839 million transport budget. What sort of limousines are being used to ferry the IOC bureaucrats to and fro? Are they still spending a million a week on consultants?
Boris has brought some transparency to the budget which has helped. But some more detail would be welcome. How many diversity officers soes the Olympic Delivery Authority employ? What extra costs on contractors have their antics caused as small firms are squeezed out because they have telephone directory sized Equalities Policies?
Wouldn't it be possible for the games to proceed without an Inspire Co-ordinator?
The last time we hosted the Games there wasn't all this trouble. The total cost of the 1948 Games was £732,000, this is about £20 million in today's prices. It was known as the "Austerity Olympics" but as Janie Hapton makes clear in her book about it the Games were a tremendous success in both sporting and diplomatic terms. Sure there was a certain frugality. Competitors were asked to bring their own towells. On one evening when the cycling at the Herne Hill velodrome overran cars so the competitors didn't bump into each other for the remaining races. Floodlights would have been for to costly. So what? They had the right spirit.
If that was "austere" consider the previous time London was host. The 1908 Olympics were held at White City. The project was completed in just two years as it had been due to take place in Rome but the Italians abandoned it after Mount Vesuvius erupted. Cost to the taxpayer? £60,000. That cost was for the construction of the White City Stadium which lasted many years. It provided the scene for the closing climax in the 1950 film The Blue Lamp. The Stadium was eventually demolished in 1985.
Aside from that item the games made a profit. The costs were £15,000 with revenues of £21,377. Rather than some multi million pound Quango an eccentric aristocrat called Lord Desborough set up a committee of those with the same amateur credentials as the sportsmen they were preparing to welcome. Lord Desborough had proved his own athletic credentials in Egypt in 1988 when he was chased by a group of dervishes and made it back to British lines without dropping his umbrella.
Graeme Kent's book on the 1908 games is called Olympic Follies. But at least the folly was within budget. The failure to include flags for all the participating nations – including the United States – did mean that the games were not quite the diplomatic success of 1948. Perhaps this was an economy drive too far. Nor was this the only dispute with the Americans. In the Tug of War they complained that the British team -consisting of policeman from Liverpool – had an unfair advantage because they were wearing their normal working boots. What a pity that Tug of War is no longer an Olympic sport.
This is supposedly the dawning of the age of austerity. Trimming a couple of hundred million from the Olympics budget would be pretty modest austerity by historical standards.