Social Science blog

Exploring Social Science at the British Library

19 December 2011

More On Money

Simone Bacchini writes:

The recent publication by the National Audit Office (NAO) of a progress report on the preparation for the summer Olympics and Paralympics has been much commented in the press.

 

As the body responsible for scrutinising public expenditure on behalf of Parliament, the NAO has been carrying out—at regular intervals—audits on the progress made in the preparation for the Games. Basically, its main task is to verify that work for London 2012 is proceeding according to plans—on time and within budget—and that the taxpayer is getting value for money. It caused some outrage.

 

Overall, work is proceeding well. NAO found that the Olympic Delivery Authority—responsible for the construction of new venues and infrastructures—is on track to deliver its work on the Olympic Park on time, to the required standards, and, most importantly, on budget. Still, this won’t be a cheap affair with an estimated final delivery cost of £6,856 million. And the figure does not include £333 million to transform the Olympic Park after the Games.

 

So, what caused the outrage? Well, for a start there are Transport for London and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), which is the liaison point for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on the preparation for the Games, responsible for staging the Games. According to NAO’s report, they have not yet developed fully integrated plans for the Olympic Route Network with local area transport plans. Until this is done, we will not know the full impact that the modified and increased demands on London’s transport system will have for businesses and individuals. I would venture to say that in reality we won’t know what the full impact will be until after the Games.

 

However, what really caught some commentators’ attention were the rising costs of security, mainly owing to poor planning. Initially, LOCOG estimated that around 10,000 guards would be needed to guarantee venue security. The estimated cost was £282 million. But when the venues were completed, the estimate was revised. All of a sudden, it appeared that 23,700 guards would be needed, bringing the cost of the security operation to an estimated £553 million. This amounts to a doubling of the cost, which in turn will mean more public expenditure. In other words: we—the taxpayer—will have to pay more.

 

Getting an estimate wrong by 50 per cent is certainly a lot. Personally, I lack the expertise to say what should have been done to get it right in the first place. My guess is that most of the public do too, including some of the journalists who were so incensed by the new figures.

 

Whenever public money is involved, it only right that expenses be scrutinised and criticises, where necessary. However, I can’t help but wonder if perhaps all the talk of values, legacy, and the symbolism that surround the Olympics hasn’t perhaps blinded us to one incontrovertible fact: the modern Games is a colossal event, a gigantic machine that—once it’s set in motion—is impossible to stop.

 

Athletes do not take competing lightly; their careers might be relatively short but for their duration they know the training will have to be relentless, their attention focussed, and all else will have to take second place. All this requires psychological—as much as physical—preparation. I wonder if we ought to accept the same frame of mind for host countries too.

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