Matthew Elliott is Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
Five years from today, the torch for the 2012 London Olympic Games will
be lit. It is still unclear whether British taxpayers will have much
to celebrate. Over the last two years the initial excitement at
winning the Games has subsided and is being replaced by a growing
distrust of the entire project.
While a majority still support the 2012 Games, the number disagreeing
with the statement “the benefit to Britain of having the Olympics here
is well worth the money it will cost to stage the games” had risen by 9
per cent according to a Populus poll in November 2006. Central to this
growing disillusionment is that people are becoming increasingly aware
of just how much they might have to pay. 87% of them expected the
budget to rise; they may not have expected it to rise as much as it
did (We will be re-polling these questions later in the summer. Watch
When the Olympics was first announced it was going to cost just £2.4 billion and that sum was going to come from the National Lottery and an additional levy on London council taxpayers. Now, the Olympics are set to cost £9.4 billion and £6 billion of that is to come from general taxation.
There have been a number of reasons for the Olympics going over budget. First, the initial budget was massively flawed. As the Public Accounts Committee noted, it didn’t include whole categories of cost like tax. Looking back, it really does appear to have been a back-of-a-fag-packet calculation that was totally unrealistic.
What’s worse, there has already been a catalogue of mistakes and misfortunes in the running of this project that have pushed the cost up further. The unelected quango running the project thought nothing about blowing £400,000 on a bizarre logo no-one liked. A further £100,000 was spent sending lucky MPs on visits to countries that had previously hosted the games – as if this made any difference at all.
However, the biggest problems are due to poor management practice. It is beginning to look like the Olympic Delivery Authority, the Olympics Minister and the Civil Servants in charge lack the management experience to deliver the Games on time and on budget. Jack Lemley, Chairman of the Olympic Delivery Agency until last October, quit saying “I went there to build things, not to sit and talk about it.” Edward Leigh also saw problems with the project’s management, remarking: “There is no single person in overall control”.
All this could mean further rises in the budget of the Olympics. The TaxPayers’ Alliance has looked at Athens. If London were to repeat the more than five-fold rise there we could see a budget as high as £12.6 billion.
A new campaign we have established – the 2012 Watchdog – will keep a close eye on 2012 and hold politicians accountable if costs rise further. We will monitor closely any signs that they are hiding costs in other budgets to conceal over-runs. We will represent taxpayers throughout Britain who should not wind up paying over the odds thanks to blank cheques written by their government. Hopefully we can do our bit to make sure that £9.4 billion really is the final budget for the 2012 Olympics.