The majority of the British public remain highly sceptical about the country’s ability to successfully deliver the London Olympics in 2012 to the current budget, according to a survey carried out by Pentacle.
The survey, of over 400 people, reveals that 62 per cent are ‘certain’ the site will not be built to budget, with a further 27 per cent not confident that it will. Only one person in ten is confident about the Olympics’ financing.
The results cast wider doubt on the perceived ability of the public sector to deliver large-scale projects in the UK. Ninety per cent of the public believe that Britain’s public authorities are ‘incapable’ of estimating the cost of major public works, whilst 84 per cent think that the government has not been ‘straight with the public’ about the required level of funding.
Fifty-two per cent feel that poor project management by those involved is the single biggest reason for the escalation in costs since Britain won its bid last summer, with 70 per cent arguing a head contractor should be appointed on a fixed-price contract to ‘ring-fence’ further public liability. This challenges the existing organisation of the project, by which the central Olympic Delivery Authorityhas used a number of suppliers to create flexibility.
Professor Eddie Obeng, director, Pentacle said: ‘One too many blunders in managing large public projects of this kind have made a huge dent in public confidence. Wanting accountability is natural and having a central figure feels more reassuring. The irony, of course, is that this is ludicrous. We know from Wembley that head-contractors simply bring huge delays’.
Whilst 68 per cent of the public feel that the Millennium Dome is the biggest public spending failure in recent years, the Olympics is thought likely to be a bigger failure than projects such as Wembley Stadium, the new Scottish Parliament building and the Millennium Footbridge. In an echo of the plight of the Dome, over 57 per cent think that much of the site is likely to remain unused after hosting the 2012 games. Four times as many people think that the Olympics will prove the biggest publicly funded failure than think it will be Wembley.
‘To be considered a bigger failure than a project that was delivered a year late with vastly inflated costs, is bad news indeed. But Wembley was a project organised by the Football Association, which carries far less of a stigma, and is of less importance, for the public as a whole,’ added Obeng. ‘Frustratingly, we do know how to deliver these kinds of projects – just look at Terminal Five. But careful management is needed, chunking projects into shorter-term goals that are deliverable and build momentum’.
Yet for all the misgivings and uncertainty of the long-term benefit of hosting the Games, two thirds of the public think that the government nevertheless made the right decision in backing Lord Coe’s bid. This is reinforced by 85 per cent who argue that the Olympics will succeed in bringing significant regeneration to east London. In spite of this, 56 per cent do not feel that further lottery money should be used to plug the gap in any shortfall. Seventy-two per cent of respondents think that it is similarly unfair that Londoners should be made to foot the bill.
‘It is interesting that the public remains convinced of the benefit of the Olympic Games and what it will do for east London, but still worries that the site will become abandoned much like the Dome,’ said Obeng. ‘For London to regenerate itself, the objective and the site’s ongoing use need to go hand-in-hand. Proper planning is essential, to attract and retain investment into the area. Alternatively, the government could do something more radical, to try and pay back lottery money. Thinking more commercially about how the site may be used could be far more beneficial to London’s long-term regeneration than a bunch of lofty ideals.
‘Whilst it is terrific to see that the public still supports the Olympics overall, despite the vast number of problems it has faced to date, it is still significant that a third do not feel the government should have backed the bid. There cannot be many countries in the world where such a number of people would think that staging the Olympics would be a bad idea – proof that the government will need to work hard now to restore public faith.’