These were the public sector games

One fact that the Prime Minister is bound to ignore at his  legacy press conference is the role of the public sector in the Olympics.  And I bet he won’t celebrate its success, apart from a nod to the military. It is, though, worth stressing that these were the public sector games. They were bid for by the public sector, won by the public sector, organised by the public sector,  paid for by the public sector  – oh you get the picture. But there is more: the security ended up being rescued by the public sector and relied on public transport – organised and paid for by the public sector, even if at times provided by private companies.

The planning was all done by government agencies and even the fantastic broadcasting was provided by the dear old BBC. Can you imagine what it would have cost on Sky?Nearly all the venues provided by the public sector and even the Millennium Dome was involved under the bizarre name of North Greenwich arena (it’s the O2 now).  Danny Boyle’s homage to the NHS was apt, but its message can be extended to much else that is good in our society, and much of it was on view at the Games.

The whole event was a celebration of the way that people get together, form governments which then run things for the people, and shows that government is not something that necessarily we want less of, the favourite mantra of Romney and Ryan. We should stop being scared of  the fact that at times state provision is the best way of doing things. I wonder if Ed Milliband will have the courage to point this out and celebrate it.

  • Jean de Florette

    What collectivist fluff. It may surprise you to discover that for most people, the Olympic Games celebrate athletic brilliance, individual talent, determination, hard work and commitment – not an opportunity to give thanks to the Glorious State.

    Interesting also that you seem to have missed out one of the aspects of 2012 more commonly representative of public sector involvement – the fact that incompetent scoping of the project at the outset caused it to eventually cost the taxpayer four times more than its original budget.

  • Ricpou

    Even I, one of the greatest Olympi-cynics, have to say, it has all gone rather well.  Brilliant performance from our Athletes, thank you for your superb efforts.  Back to the nitty-gritty!
    Public Transport worked, with only one early failure when the Central Line went down. The irony here was that punters tipped out of the tube at Liverpool St were told to wait for buses when a two minute walk to platforms 14 – 18 (and others) would have found a fast local train to Stratford about every 5 minutes, where many would have arrived on literally the next platform to the Central Line! 
    Good to see visitors using the new London Rail map showing Rail and Underground, and even I explained to some very nice Dutch people how to change from Overground onto Worst Capital Connect at Highbury for Ally Pally, and they were quite happy to get on the big blue train with pink stripes, as opposed to Viccy Line tubes on the next platform, they were fully conversant with the different trains. 
    So not only were visitors ok with the tubes but athletes used public transport.  Those of us who know, knew that train, tube or DLR would ALWAYS be quicker than a minibus in a games lane, though the olympic minibuses were needed to cart kit around.
    Good also to see Overground’s big boss Steve Murphy at Stratford on Platforms 1 and 2 checking his trains in and out. I had just one 10 minute gap at Highbury for the ELL when no train turned up.  Thank goodness it worked, but if only it would work every day, or do we commentators and lobbyists just want utopia?  It is possible.
    Also a lot of us just kept out of central London, some escaped; one friend, she was one of the most vocal anti’s, e-mailed from her ‘Neuclear bunker here on the Danube’!  But the interesting bit was the downturn in business in central London, but I have to chuckle at a few ‘rip off’ merchants who caught a cold and had to cut prices very quickly.
    BUT I remain sceptical of the spin-off benefits the politicos and promoters claimed the Games would deliver.  Let Lord Seb Coe lead the sporting legacy, and good luck to him.   But there are local economic and social legacy issues way beyond Seb’s skills and competence.  We HAVE to involve the local people, and sort out social housing – remember 500 social homes of the Mays Lane Housing Co-Op were demolished – and amenities.  Also the rail link to Walthamstow through Lea Bridge was an early casualty.  The local buses are severely congested, and the local buses are notoriously unreliable because of congestion. 
    And can we get rid of the Colditz style 5m high spiky fencing surrounding the Olympic Park zone, ASAP please. It looks like a prison from outside.
    Luxury flats for the ‘haves’ are NOT wanted, Social investment is still urgently needed.
    Our Athletes have performed brilliantly, Well done and a good luck for your next games.  But for the rest of us the work starts now.  Rant over!

    PS: I see those ghastly mascot toys are already reduced to half price to clear in my local Sainsbury’s!  Chuckle chuckle.

  • Not to mention that many of the British athletes and their organisations are funded by the public sector!

  • Steve

    Completely agree with you, Christian. After over two years of this government deliberately denigrating the public sector it’s brilliant to see it performing playing such a fundamental role. Yes, many private transport companies were involved, but on a contractual basis to the public sector, which was uniquely in the position to be able to coordinate the operation. 

    Tellingly, one transport area where TfL did not have control, the private TOCs, ran a hotch-potch of additional services, some comprehensively, others hardly anything, with no coordination of last trains from London. 
    TfL has been rewarded by being appointed as the official transport consultant to Rio 2016.

  • It cost the taxpayer four times more than originally budgeted because the taxpayer bailed out the project after the anticipated private sector commitment disappeared in the credit crunch.

  • Willsheaney

    Athletic brilliance, individual talent, determination, hard work and commitment, and funding from the state to allow all of the above to be schooled and fashioned into Olympic success.

  • Ricpou

    I have already had my say, and I too endorse the individual effort of every athlete who won a medal, and those who did not.  Yes that is individual effort and superb too.
    I went to many of the early consultation meetings in East London around Stratford back in 2008, the cock-ups came from the PRIVATE sector consultants who charged in with their grand plans, lapped up by LOCOG, ignoring local people, and starving local groups of funding.  Plans were presented as a fait-a-complis, destruction of homes, allotments, greenfield spaces and all.  My friend who escaped to the Danube fought tooth-and-nail to stop certain devolpments going on on marshlands in the Lower Lea Valley, but to little avail. Just brushed aside …..  How it would all work and the logistics… TfL can do that….. yes they did all the planning, not even LOCOG.
    I was saddened to see on the BEEB News 24 (evg 13/8) that already there are rows in Rio about homes to be demolished and so on.
    No, this is not about ‘Giving thanks to the Glorious State’; what a load of Obllocks!  It is recognising the fact that without state funding, it would not have happenned.  The Public Transport could have been chaotic, remember the disaster of Atlanta in that great bastion of capitalism, the USofA, home of the Big Mac and Coke…..  Rio has got to spend a lot of public money over the next 1400 days!  That won’t come from McDonalds or CocaCola.
    I personally don’t think it was worth £9.2bn, but for better or worse we were stuck with it because our politicians bought the hype.  Fortunately it has worked, and there have been no major incidents  –  apart from the tragic murder of an innocent 12 year-old girl in south London, not Olympic related, which marred a week of rather good news.  The strength of the state, our lads from the services picking up the shambles of G4S, another ‘successful’ global private sector operation that could not organise a ‘piss-up-in-a-brewery’ shows how important the state still is.
    And having personally prepared the conceptual outline for one public transport rail scheme, London Overground, some 15 years ago, every penny of that upgrade came from the public purse.  But it worked, and remarkably well.

  • Fledermaus

    Highly Nazi-collectivist.After all, the very word “Fascist” comes from the latin “fasces” a bundle of sticks – weak individually, but strong when bound toghether.
    The whole bullying, arrogant, muscle-bound “team games & school spurts” [NOT a misprint!] ethos behind this vast extravagance, AT OUR EXPENSE & unasked-for  (- what was that about democracy?) … Pink Ken’s personal vanity project, picked up by BoJo, and still rammed in our faces.
    I am just glad it is OVER – OK we have the FREAK SHOW (Paralympics) where the disabled and deformed get to perform in public for other people’s profit, to come – but that’s it.
    Apart, of course, from the welcome demonstration, especially to the command-&-control freaks in the Home Office, that yes, we can suspend normal laws, yes we can screw around with your neighbourhood, and the way you walk, or expecially cycle around, and yes, we can install a panopticon state, & no-one will protest sucessfully.

  • RapidAssistant

    All I will say is that we didn’t have an “austerity games” largely because most of the money was already allocated and ringfenced before the credit crunch struck.  Surely keeping all those builders and their supply chain in work over the worst of the recession was better than having them on the dole?  It is good old Keynesian economics at work – you have to put money in, to get more out – the lights may just have come on in Downing Street of late, given that new buzz-phrase – the “shovel ready project” is rapidly coming into vogue with the current incumbents.

    At the end of the day, lets not lose sight of the fact that London is one of the wealthiest cities in the world and putting on a £9bn spectacle is not that much in the grand scheme of things (how much does the NHS or the state pension cost over two weeks??) –  and given that most of this new infrastructure will still be standing in 50 years time (hell even the much maligned Dome is starting to be forgiven for its many sins…) maybe we will be looking back at 2012 more fondly than the Daily Mail reading doom-mongers say they will be.

  • Jean de Florette

    The National Lottery actually provides most individual athletics funding – the State has been too busy over the last 20 years selling off school playing fields to property developers.

  • Jean de Florette


    Tessa Jowell announced to parliament that the cost of 2012 to the taxpayer had already ballooned to £9.3bn in March 2007. Few economists were predicting financial meltdown at that time and no private sector investors had bailed – in fact, Gordon Brown was still using the word “prudent” in every speech.

    Even during a period of economic stability, the public sector underestimated the cost by over 300%.

  • Mike

    I can’t see anything to celebrate in a £9bn + state circus that I was forced to support as a taxpayer whether I wanted to or not. Moreover, the whole thing felt more like a dry-run for some future security lockdown than a sporting event.

    As for private vs “public” (ie state), all I can say is that no private organisation would create something so grotesque – or so reliant on brute force.

  • Chiltern User

    The final capital cost of the Olympics will be less than was at one time forecast. Because of the recession and fall-off in private sector construction, the Olympic Delivery Authority was able to exploit the excess capacity in the civil engineering and building industries and drive down prices for more recent contracts. Sir John Armitt as Chairman of the ODA was the right man at the right time. With his decades of construction industry experience he was able to ensure completion of much work ahead of schedule. The world economic downturn was very helpful to the ODA. The industry needed the work and knew it could not outwit Sir John, who had the opportunity to obtain competitive bids. And as RapidAssistant points out, the ODA’s contracts helped maintain employment levels.

  • Roy-smith

    West Coast Franchise

    Following todays announcement that First have won the West Coast franchise and taking into account the franchises that they already have and also also bidding for do you think that is a viable proposition?

  • Keith

    Total govt. health spending around 120Bn a year I believe. This doesn’t include disability benefits. So perhaps 9bn (£150 each) is not so bad if we all get a placebo effect! It would just be nice if at least some of the money spent encouraging sport/better cycling facilities etc actually counted as “health” spending.

  • Steve

    You disgusting individual. Bad karma is coming your way.

  • Totally agree. Its not just about the funding. It was public procurement and a public agency that delivered the Games on time and on budget. The stuff about it being 400% over budget is obvious game playing. People who mention this don’t understand the difference between a bid, a forecast, and a budget. However, lets also big up the private sector companies who delivered all of the construction work on time and to budget, who ran the trains and buses, and who made a massive financial contribution to the Games. Also, lets be honest about where the public sector went wrong. The G4S debacle was not simply a failure of a private company to deliver. It was a major public sector procurement failure, and a major failure of contract monitoring.

  • Ben Oldfield