I’m not a great sports fan. The nearest I get to active participation is the occasional length of the pool and a beer in front of the rugby. However, when I heard that London had won the Olympics bid in 2005 I can’t deny that like many others I was pleased.
Since, then though, my feelings about the Olympics has become less and less enthusiastic in almost exact proportion to the project overspend. Certainly, the Olympics will help regenerate a deprived area of east London, and may well inspire a generation of dumpy English people (myself included) to put on an ill-fitting tracksuit and jog round the block for a bit. But at what price?
The most recent budget projection for the games is now a wopping £9.3 billion – this is FOUR TIMES the projected cost in 2005 when we won the games. This is not a slight overspend, this smack of at the very best incompetence and at the worst dishonesty when setting out the finances to the public and the IOC. Just think, if the costs have risen that much in 2 years, what will the final spending be by 2012.
Does this matter? Well, yes it does. This extra money has to be found somewhere, and one of the kittys from which the money is being directed is the Lottery Fund, which is being hit to the tune of a cool £675 million. This adds to the money from the fund which had already been promised to fund the games.
Obviously my main interest is in how this will effect the Heritage Lottery Fund. According to a press release from the HLF it's going to have £90 million less thanks to the Olympic Games debacle. £90 million is a lot of money, but what does this translate to in practical spending on our heritage. This would pay for four year’s spend on smaller community and voluntary sector grants and the funding entire stream aimed at involving young people (around 6000 projects). Alternatively it could pay for the planned HLF spend on churches and historic town centres from Gateshead to Great Yarmouth (around 1400 schemes) for four years. The HLF is currently the biggest source of funds for the historic and natural environment, and cultural heritage, far outweighing the amount spent by government. This slashing of HLF funds comes after four years of de facto spending cuts for English Heritage. There appears to be no real interest within the government about the adequate funding for heritage in the UK. The good intentions laid out in the recent White Paper will come to naught without supply of adequate resources.