There are forty-four days until the London Olympics. One final thrust before immeasurable crowds descend fog-like on the capital and the glitterati of the International Olympics Committee (IOC) land on every five star hotel suite in sight. For the Londoner on the street, they can expect 30 miles of the capital's busiest roads to be forbidden, reassigned as so-called Olympic Super-Highways, whilst bus users are promised imminent disruptions to almost a quarter of current services. The fine for any nonconformists? A threatened £130. No wonder then that over half the city's employers have been forced to bend to the will of the IOC, trimming back their staff's office hours over the summer.
But there is a silver lining. As was announced in the Government Olympic Executive's Quarterly Report last week, we now know that the games will be delivered under budget.
Of course, though, this wish of hope is insignificant. When Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson appeared on the BBC Today programme on the morning of the report's publication his claim of a half-million 'saving' on the games was shrouded by a veil of misdirection and ambiguity. A recovery of "25 per cent of the original contingency" was the core of the Minister's announcements, yet the very mention of a 'contingency' reveals the already disconcerting failure of the team overseeing this year's sporting grandstanding.
We should not be surprised that the Minister was so eager to avoid recognising the original projected cost of the games. Instead Robertson stated hung keenly to the upwardsly revised figure of £9.3 billion announced only in March 2007. "It's of that," he pointed out, "that we're going to be able to hand half a billion pounds back to the treasury." This audacious sleight of hand glides over the fact that in 2005 the predicted budget was an estimated £2.5billiion and that, short of saving money, this bloated games rolls in at well over three and a half times expectations. Any fool can pay eagerly for a bruised £9 apple, then hand over a tenner and crow proudly upon receiving his £1 change.
One may boast of the Games' ability to boost the UK economy, as indeed many have. Yet, as the UK tourist authority announced in December, the 30.7million visitors expected to Britain this year would have holidayed to our green and pleasant land anyway regardless of any of the events planned in Stratford. Moreover, the cancellation of numerous traditional UK summer festivals that would normally help boost the economy (Eastnor Castle's historic Big Chill amongst them) is a sign of the inevitable hubris committed by present and past governments.
Splitting equally the £9.3billion between all the UK's 25million households could have meant an instant windfall of £372 for families up and down the country. Alternatively the benefits of any new public infrastructure or bottom up social regeneration (albeit without the same opportunities for polticians to indulge in a self-satisfied public grandstanding) would have equated to over three quarter's of the UK transport budget last year.
Instead, in the depths of a double dip recession and despite many protestations, the UK has been burdened, piling good money after bad into what could easily be misconstrued as a badly disguised ponzi scheme. In this situation, curely the only winners are the French. Across the channel they can relax, feeling grateful to have dodged what has surely been a multi-million pound speeding bullet.