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Olympics, not politics


Last Wednesday the Olympic Delivery Authority unveiled a procurement process that sets out to be fair, inclusive and non confrontational.

It is full of excellent intentions ranging from subscribing to an integrated and collaborative procurement approach, through to recognising that value for money doesn't actually mean lowest price and the requirement that suppliers source materials from markets that do not employ child labour.

There have been some quibbles about collateral warranties, electronic procurement and retentions, but on the whole an industry that is excited by the Olympics and desperate to get on and build the venues greeted the proposals very positively.

Five days later Don Foster MP tabled a written question to Chancellor Gordon Brown asking if ministers and ofcials in his department had been holding meetings with Olympic Delivery Partner bidders and what was discussed. The meetings were immediately denied and it was pointed out that it was merely the presence of Treasury representatives on the ODA's compliance and oversight group helping oversee the procurement process that might have prompted the question.

Nevertheless construction industry nerves, already set to very tense, were ramped up to a whole new level.

There is a huge amount of paranoia developing around the imminent appointment of the delivery partner. Businesses working regularly with one partner are hopeful of work if that one wins; but are convinced they have no chance if a company they have had poor relations with is the victor. Almost four out of 10 of our NCE 500 think they have a point.

The ODA protests that EU procurement rules by which it and its partner must abide mean the appointment of suppliers will be completely fair; old alliances can't intrude. Others with different experience say that EU rules haven't stopped other contractors operating as baronies in the past, but at least the ODA and its delivery partner bidders are aware of the issue and can defuse it up front.

The Treasury question, although off the mark this time, brought a whole new fear into the mix. What hope is there for a fair procurement process if deals might be done politically on the QT?

On Tuesday at the launch of the consultative, collaborative process for procuring the Olympic stadium it emerged that the London 2012 team's protection against the dabbling of politicians could be the same as its solution for fair procurement. Transparency.

LOCOG chairman Sebastian Coe was asked what had been learned from Wembley. Instead of castigating the construction industry he listed problems caused by the meddling of politicians and bureaucrats, whose changing demands contributed to the national football stadium's cost increase and delays.

The impression was that London 2012 knew exactly where its biggest risk lay and it wasn't the construction industry.

The team has plans to get the capital's Olympics built beautifully, on time, and to a budget. It believes it can do it, as long as the politicians don't interfere in an unwarranted fashion.

Telling everyone exactly what is going on at London 2012, good and bad, would seem to be the way to limit unhelpful outside interference.

If that is the plan, it is a brave one. But it is the best chance we have of building a Games to remember. And it is going to be fascinating to watch it unfold.

Jackie Whitelaw is NCE's deputy editor

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