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Olympic Boroughs' hidden spending spree

Recent Freedom of Information responses from 2012 Olympics 'host boroughs' confirm the suspicion that local council funds and resources are being diverted into Olympics matters in ways that are not easily identifiable or accounted for. The lack of transparency and thorough accounting procedures make it almost impossible to calculate how much council tax payers are contributing to the 2012 Olympics as a whole, over and above the highly publicised £9.3billion budget.

The London Borough of Hackney, while being unable to put a figure on it, describes the "increasing number of policies and projects related to the successful hosting of the games" and "sheer scale...of work being undertaken at Hackney". This is hidden spending, entirely outside the official budget for the 2012 games, and not identified in the Council's Statement of Accounts (as is the case with all the boroughs).

The failure to identify and track the true expenditure by local authorities will make any future evaluation of the overall impact of the Olympics impossible; but this is one of the recurring characteristics of the Olympic Games - the failure to accurately record and analyse the real costs and benefits.

And with so many of the local population sceptical of the Olympics propaganda or negatively affected by the preparations or service cuts in other areas, it is undemocratic that this spending is not being clearly identified.

This is the Freedom of Information request I submitted to try to get official statements on Olympics-related spending, and summaries of the responses received:

Please provide summary information on all expenditure to date related to the London 2012 Olympics, incurred and funded by the Council. This should include staff salaries, elected officials expenses, other administration and publicity expenses, funding of events and of any projects or initiatives in any way related to the Olympics”.

Newham

Failed to provide any information on the grounds that "the request will exceed the search limit of 2.5 days". No further justification or explanation provided, but it indicates that they have no practical means of tracking their Olympics spending.

Tower Hamlets

Managed to supply some figures:

  Employee Transport Supplies/Services 3rd party payments
2006/2007 161,077 203 106,179 103,903 371,362
2007/2008 104,215 539 123,416 103,114 331,284
2008/2009 210,908 266 206,210 180,500 597,884
Total 476,201 1,008 435,804 387,517 1,300,530

They state

"London Borough of Tower Hamlets' 2012 Unit is funded through LPSA (Local Public Service Agreement) Reward Grant and is therefore not funded by local Council Tax payers."

This is misleading - local residents are indirectly funding it through the opportunity cost of services that could otherwise be provided from the grant, were it not spent on Olympics promotion. Presumably the costs of running the 2012 Unit are in addition to the spending described.

The '3rd party payments' represent payments to an organisation known as the '5 Boroughs Unit', run by Eryl Smith who had previous roles at BAA including managing director of the Terminal 5 project. The only public information available appears to be a website from 2006 set up to recruit the Executive Director at a salary of £125,000. Based on current contributions, £5million of Council Tax revenue will be paid to the unit overall by the 5 boroughs for "maximising opportunities", "engaging with neighbourhoods" and "giving strategic and operational coherence".

Hackney

As with Newham, they declined to provide any financial information on the grounds that

"As a result of the sheer scale of the Olympics and the work presently being undertaken at Hackney alone I have estimated that it will cost more than the appropriate limit to consider your request."

and

"To identify all the staff time associated with the Olympics would in itself exceed the free 18 hours as the influence of the Olympics is increasing in a variety of Council functions. As it is such a major event with such extensive impact on the Borough an increasing number of policies and projects at present relate not only to the successful hosting of the games but also the legacy of the games and the benefits to the borough in consequence of the games. Both direct and indirect staff time has been, is being and will be spent on these matters."

The Statement of Accounts for 2007/8 shows a reserve of £9.3m - ie. funds that have been set aside with the intention of spending in the future - for "costs of initiatives that will ensure that Hackney derives the maximum ongoing benefits from the 2012 London Olympics. It also provides funding for additional costs that will be incurred during the Olympics as a result of being one of the host boroughs"

Waltham Forest

Provided the following figures -



  2006/07 2007/08 2008/09
2012 Team Costs - Council Funded     £361,025.04
5 Borough Contribution £100,000.00 £100,000.00 £180,500.00
       
TOTAL £100,000.00 £100,000.00 £541,525.04

However they point out that this

"does not give an accurate reflection of the overall expenditure towards the 2012 Olympics" and the cost implications across the Council as a whole would be "practically impossible to measure".

They also explained that the 2012 Team costs for the first 2 years (£550,000) were met from the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund. This does not appear to be the type of use for which the fund was intended. LBWF are still embroiled in a scandal concerning misuse and maladministration of NRF funds.

Greenwich

I'm still waiting for a response.

 

The full Freedom Of Information responses can be found on the whatdotheyknow.org website -

Hackney

Newham

Tower Hamlets

Waltham Forest
Greenwich


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