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Olympics and Paralympics (Funding)

February 27, 2012

Mark made the following contributions to a debate about the funding of the Olympics.

Mr Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con):
One of the concerns, if not of many Members of the House, then of many people outside it, is that very little attention seems to have been paid at the beginning to how much this would all cost. Various figures were bandied around at that juncture, and £2.5 billion was suggested as the cost of the overall package. I accept that it is good that we have the games and that there is unity across the House about that, but it is equally important that there is an open debate on funding and other related issues, particularly the question of whether there will be the legacy we all hope for in that part of east London, which we will not have a definite answer to for at least another decade. One of the concerns at the outset—of course, that was a very different economic time—was that there was very little scrutiny of the whole funding issue.

John Bercow (Speaker) Order. Notwithstanding the fact that the hon. Gentleman speaks for two cities, as opposed to a smaller area, a degree of economy when intervening from now on would be appreciated.

John Whittingdale (Maldon, Conservative) I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I do not want to disagree with him, but although he may well be right that perhaps insufficient attention was paid to funding outside in the wider world, I can assure him that the Select Committee paid close attention to it. I will deal with that in more detail, as it is the prime focus of the debate.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda, Labour) The previous Select Committee, on which I served, spent a great deal of time trying to examine the finances and on one specific issue: transport in London. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that many people in London will be extremely irate if the special lanes that are set aside for International Olympic Committee and Olympic traffic are used by Ministers and others seeking to have an easier time of it in a very difficult city and that it would be best if people avoided such conflicts of interest?

John Whittingdale (Maldon, Conservative) I agree that transport is going to be one of the great challenges, and it is one to which I shall refer and about which, I suspect, other Members will want to talk. I agree also that the reserved lanes have the potential to cause a great deal of irritation to people sitting stationary in traffic jams next door to them. I am sure that it is something my hon. Friend the Minister, too, is keenly aware of, and he may wish to speak about it when he responds later.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative) On that related point, sensibly most people recognise that there are huge security issues around the Olympic games that mean that Heads of State and Ministers will need to be looked after. The bigger concern that I have, unlike Chris Bryant, is that a whole lot of flunkeys, hangers-on, junior people with the International Olympic Committee and sponsors are going to get that VIP treatment, when there is no necessity for the security to which I refer.

John Whittingdale (Maldon, Conservative) My hon. Friend brings up the other issue that is causing some anxiety, security, which I am sure we will discuss as well. To a certain extent, the IOC rules, which have proven to be quite challenging in several different aspects throughout our preparation for the games, dictate some of the issues, but again I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will want to discuss that.

Edward Leigh (Gainsborough, Conservative) The Public Accounts Committee examined all the finances. People do not mind so much the cost or the special lanes; the thing that really irritates them—what they are fed up with and I am fed up with—is that we applied for tickets but none of us got any bloody tickets! They are all going to the flunkeys and corporate people, so what is the Minister going to do about that?

John Whittingdale (Maldon, Conservative) The third issue, besides transport and security, that I was going to and, indeed, still intend to come on to, is ticketing, which I understand has caused some irritation as well. In that particular regard, however, LOCOG was in an appallingly difficult situation, which I shall come to in greater detail in due course. It was going to be criticised almost whichever way it played the situation.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative) Without wishing to pre-empt a fourth issue, which may come up as well, I just want to say briefly on security that we all recognise that events within 24 hours of our winning the bid in July 2005 meant that the security situation was going to be very different. Although I have, and have long had, concerns about the burgeoning funds for the Olympic games, I recognise equally that we are in a different security position, which therefore inevitably has a cost implication well beyond that which we anticipated back in July 2005.

John Whittingdale (Maldon, Conservative) One of the extraordinary things about how much has been achieved in preparation is that the world is different in quite a number of ways from that of 2005. My hon. Friend is entirely right that the security picture has changed enormously and, I am afraid, for the worse, so it has required much more attention, but the other big change is the economic climate, and many funding issues have been influenced by the fact that the Olympic facilities have had to be built in the teeth of a severe global recession. That has also proved very difficult. One thing that we discovered in talking to previous organisers of Olympic games was that several could not have done so had their work coincided with a recession as deep as the one that we have experienced.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative) While we are still talking about funding, I should like to endorse what Lyn Brown said. It would be a missed opportunity if, in an effort to reimburse the national lottery fund, we were to lose moneys that would otherwise go to regeneration. That is their raison d’être in that part of London for the next 10 years. May I say to Ian Swales that the independence of the lottery has long since been lost? The Big Lottery Fund, which was introduced under the previous Government, means that lottery funding goes, to a large extent, outside those main causes. It is also true that we put a significant amount of money into the millennium fund in advance of 2000. In many ways, that head was transferred into Olympic funding.

John Whittingdale (Maldon, Conservative) Indeed, although I would hope that one achievement of my hon. Friend the Minister will be restoring the lottery to its original purpose and putting the proceeds to the original good causes rather than to some of the causes that my hon. Friend rightly identifies.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative) My hon. Friend is very generous. Obviously there are concerns about what will happen with transport in July, August and September. However, it is also worth putting on record that it is greatly to the credit of Tessa Jowell and my hon. Friend the Minister that we have placed a lot of focus on getting the broader transport links in the area right. I hope that will augur extremely well for the legacy that we all wish for. There will be new docklands light railway stations and better transport in the area. I accept that there will be massive congestion during the Olympics, but those developments will stand us in good stead for the future.

John Whittingdale (Maldon, Conservative) I think what my hon. Friend says applies more generally. We hope not only that the London Olympics games and Paralympics will be a fantastic event that will be celebrated and enjoyed across this country and around the world, but that we will secure a lasting legacy that will certainly benefit east London and, I hope, people right across the country.