Families to get cheaper tickets for the Games

Tessa Jowell tells The Independent public scepticism about the Games is fast receding
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The Independent Online

Subsidised tickets for poor families outside of London will form a "substantial portion" of all those sold for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Tessa Jowell has told The Independent.

In an interview, the Olympics Minister said her priority was to avoid the scandal of empty seats seen in Beijing last year by putting together "family packages" aimed at less well-off people living outside the capital.

Funds received from corporate hospitality tickets will be redirected towards tourist-style packages that will include discounted hotel accommodation and rail bookings.

"One of the things I've always been an advocate for is affordable tickets for families", Ms Jowell said. She is discussing such cut-price packages with the Transport Secretary, Lord Adonis, the train companies, and the London Tourist Board's "Visit London". "The cost is not prohibitive. This is not a government subsidy," she said. "It's about going to those who set the prices, whether rail or hotel, and saying: Can we get some packages please, so that these really can be the UK games?"

Chinese organisers were criticised when pictures of empty stadiums, with seats bought through corporate hospitality left unoccupied, were broadcast round the world.

After Beijing, a groundswell of public opinion asserted that, with the UK plunging into recession, the Games were – at £9.3bn – simply unaffordable. Yet now, with the development of the site at Stratford, east London advancing impressively, support for what Ms Jowell variously calls "economic gold at a time of economic need" and "a shot in the arm for UK PLC" has surged to 75 per cent, according to pollsters.

The minister offers two explanations. "First, people can see the Park taking shape and it is absolutely amazing. The second thing is that it's on budget and it's on time.

"There used to be three headlines: venues are late and the International Olympic Committee is worried; the budget is spiralling out of control; and all the people are completely useless. But now people can see none of those are borne out," she said.

Between now and next year, "what people will see is much more specificity, the Olympic park taking shape, announcements about who is going to be in the Park after the Games are over" and more information on volunteers, both in the Olympic Park and around the country. Already four times the required number of volunteers have come forward.

Further details on the much vaunted Olympic legacy, which will include community land trusts to give east London locals a stake in the land, will also be revealed.

Ms Jowell, who wakes at 6am and goes to the gym four times a week, is one of last survivors of the New Labour project instigated by former Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Olympic brief, she says, is "much more like being an executive chairman than being a minister". Her job tripled in size in the most recent Cabinet reshuffle, when she was given responsibility for the Cabinet Office and also the title of Minister for London.

Last year she was forced to counter reports that she had told a private dinner she thought London wouldn't have bid for the Games if those taking that decision had known about the coming recession. "I was talking about the degree of scepticism at the time I was discussing support for the bid with Cabinet. There was a lot of history – Wembley, the Dome – and for some people this was a toxic proposition," she explained. "What I said was, had we known that six years hence we would be heading for a deep recession, then it might have been harder to persuade some of the sceptics. But the economic argument for the Games has got stronger because of the recession. It's a very good example of keeping people in work, the ultimate Keynesianism".

She won't be drawn on whether she would continue to work with Mayor Boris Johnson were the Conservatives to win the next election; she herself has a comfortable majority in her south London seat. "We'll run this on a cross-party basis, because a national project like this doesn't belong to us – it belongs to the country," she said.

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