Magazine article Public Finance

Games On

Magazine article Public Finance

Games On

Article excerpt

THERE'S AM EXTRA fixture in Trafelgar Square these days: an Olympic countdown clock has joined Nelson, the lions and the fountains in the capital's famous tourist hub. Unveiled in March last year, the steel timepiece stands 6.5 metres high, its angular contours recalling the sharp edges of the London 2012 logo. A red digital display on its southern face records the number of days, hours, minutes and seconds left until the Olympic Games begin in the capital on July 27. Its northern fece gives the countdown to the Paralympic Games, which will start 33 days later.

On the day Public Finance meets David Goldstone, director of finance and build at the Government Olympic Executive, the countdown clock says there are 119 days left to go. By the time you read this, the Games will be even closer.

The Government Olympic Executive sits within the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, reporting directly to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt. It has been involved with every aspect of the project, acting as a sponsor and funder of the Olympic Delivery Authority, the non-departmental public body responsible for the construction of the sporting venues, athletes' village and infrastructure.

It also manages the public money going into the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (Locog), the company established to sell tickets and run the games. And until the end of March, it was a founder member of the Olympic Park Legacy Company, which is charged with finding tenants and operators for the venues post-Games.

PF's visit to the executive comes at the end of what has been a pretty good week for the London2012 team, particularly those workingon the legacy aspects. A visit from Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, elicited some high praise. Rogge said the city had 'raised the bar on how to deliver a lasting legacy' and complimented the 'remarkable' and 'already tangible' regeneration in East London.

'This great historical city has created a legacy blueprint for future Games hosts,' he said.

Despite the lOC's remarks and the National Audit Office's confirmation that the project is on time, within budget and set to be delivered to the standard expected, there is a steady stream of stories predicting that it will bust its £9.3bn public sector budget. Security costs have been under-estimated and ever more money is being spent on the opening and closing ceremonies, the stories go. In sections of the media there is outrage at the amounts spent on the public art adorning the various venues. In March, the Public Accounts Committee put the true costs of staging the Games at nearer £llbn, once the costs of land purchases and legacy programmes have been factored in.

But Goldstone points out that the purchase costs will be more than recovered through the sale of the venues, while the legacy costs were always there and are not a cost of staging the Games. He insists that the Games are 'genuinely in very good shape'. With under four months to go and half a billion pounds of the contingency fund still uncommitted, he is confident that the project will be brought in within budget.

The financial position has been pretty steady for the past three or four months,' Goldstone reveals. 1If you'd offered us this position five years ago, people would have been very happy to take it. It's a good position. We haven't finished yet and we don't want to feel like we can relax, but confident is the right word.'

He laughs off suggestions that there are myriad financial horror stories lurking just beneath the surface, emphasising the transparency of the budget. The Olympic executive issues quarterly progress reports, setting out the latest position, and there is regular scrutiny from the NAO and the PAC.

'The focus has all been about the total budget. Where costs have gone up in some areas, we've taken savings elsewhere and we've managed within the total.

It's not a calamity if one individual element goes up. …

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