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Political Games

Olympics, Overseas work - London 2012's Olympic Delivery Authority has lost its chairman, and seen a major hole appear in its budget. Should we be surprised?

A couple of months ago the soon to be ex-Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) chairman Jack Lemley and sports minister Richard Caborn shared a conference platform.

They were clearly at each other's throats - in the icily politest of ways of course - and some in the audience thought Lemley's relationship with his political masters may have passed breaking point.

So it has proved. Lemley stomped back to the US last month, as anticipated in NCE, after 10 months in post (NCE 26 October). Back at home he is sniping about the 'local politics' that made his job impossible and warning that Olympic costs will rise.

Much dramatic shock-horror has followed from, among others, the London Assembly, which has even called an emergency meeting to investigate next week.

What is most surprising about all this is that Lemley was astonished by how political the job was and that anyone at all thought the costs, as presented in the original Games bid, might not go up.

Lemley knew from the start that he would be reporting to an Olympic board of four politicians, including the Mayor of London and a secretary of state.

And as London and central government were paying for the show, they would want to be intimately involved in what the ODA was up to. The job was always going to be about managing the politicians - those on the ODA board, but also the myriad of local politicians expecting great (and expensive) benets to ow into their areas.

Lemley's statement that he 'wanted to build things, not just sit and talk about it', sounds hopeful given the set up. He may have been happier working with the ODA's delivery partner CLM, which is charged with building the Games and is currently crawling all over the cost projections in an attempt to pin down true prices and value engineer them into something acceptable.

The revelation this week that VAT was left off bid prices shows the scale of the task ahead for CLM. After all, the £2.3bn cost (2004 prices) in the Olympic bid was a price for an event that no one expected to win. Sticking to this price now would be tough even without a booming industry and uctuating energy and steel prices.

The Of e of Government Commerce's Construction Demand Capacity 2005-2015 study assumed that construction prices would be controlled if labour capacity was supplemented by unrestrictive use of migrant labour. The ODA's commitment to pay the London Living Wage is to be applauded, but was probably not part of the plan.

But it's not all bad news.

Lemley has gone but London still has a strong ODA chief executive in David Higgins who is trying to calm the waters.

Critical path land acquisition is reportedly on track so work can start on site in July 2007.

And there is a new opportunity to appoint an ODA chairman who is adept with the politicians, can do wonders with construction budgets, can motivate contractors and suppliers and support Higgins and his team.

Government and the ODA reportedly want to recruit from inside the Olympic tent. Current stand-in chairman is Sir Roy McNulty, ex-chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority. But the rumour is it should be a straight ht for the permanent post between former Amec chief executive Sir Peter Mason who is already on the ODA board, and Stanhope construction guru Peter Rogers who heads the Strategic Forum 2012 task force and is an experienced handler of tricky boards through his work at the Royal Opera House, Tate Gallery and Victoria & Albert Museum.

Place your bets now and hope the powers that be get it right this time.

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