London 2012: Stuck on the blocks?

Progress on construction is good, but there are doubts over the Olympics' legacy and worries over security. Jane Merrick reports
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The countdown to Britain's Olympic Games is being overshadowed by concerns that the 2012 showpiece will fail to deliver a lasting legacy for wider participation in sport.

With the opening ceremony of the London Games three years away next week, claims are being made that funding for grassroots projects has failed to materialise, despite the promises made by ministers more than two years ago.

Lord Patten, the former cabinet minister who is a member of the British Olympic Association advisory board, has warned of a lack of coordination in meeting what has been described by Whitehall officials as the greatest anti-terror challenge yet faced on British soil.

A week tomorrow, on 27 July, there will be three years remaining until the opening ceremony.

A poll for The Independent on Sunday has found that people are optimistic about London 2012 – referred to by ministers and organisers as the "compact Games". The ComRes survey shows 54 per cent of voters agree that the Games "will be worth the expense in the end", while 42 per cent disagree.

At the same time, the IoS has found that while some areas of the Games are on schedule, others are months behind. For example, while construction of the stadiums and roads is just four days behind schedule, a plan to get disadvantaged youngsters interested in community sport has been shelved amid the economic crisis.

Yet encouraging wider participation in sport, particularly among the disadvantaged, was one of the keys to London beating its rivals to the staging of the 2012 Games.

Lord Newby, a Liberal Democrat peer who is chairman of sport for the Prince's Trust, the country's leading youth organisation, said that up to £30m was promised by ministers two years ago for the Active Generation project involving the Trust and the Duke of Edinburgh's Awards scheme. However, the money has so far failed to materialise, leaving both organisations short of funding for encouraging young people not in employment, education or training (Neets) to take part in sport and community activities.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said last night that Active Generation had been merely a "proposal" discussed with the Prince's Trust. It denied that there were problems with the legacy, and said an "ambitious new campaign" to encourage grassroots sport was being drawn up, although this would not be launched until next year.

Lord Newby raised the issue in the House of Lords last month, but ministers refused to address his concerns.

The Active Generation programme was supposed to help more than 10,000 young people to become more socially and physically active and play a positive part in their communities.

The peer told the Lords: "It is the Trust's view that LOCOG [the London Games organising committee, chaired by Lord Coe, below] and the DCMS have not managed to create a coherent campaign behind which the third sector could unite to deliver legacy ambitions."

Lord Newby said last night: "This is something the trust is very concerned about. There are a lot of opportunities for working with sport in disadvantaged areas. Now it seems there isn't any money for this."

The Prince's Trust and other bodies are also in a catch-22 situation with the "Inspire" programme, a kitemark linked to the Olympics that is awarded to non-profit organisations. Lord Newby said while having the Inspire mark was prestigious, it stopped organisations from approaching businesses for corporate support.

Statistics from Sport England show that the target of getting a million more people playing more sport by 2012 has stalled. No progress has been made towards achieving the target, and there is a significant decline in participation in a number of sports, including swimming, football, golf, rugby union, dance, sailing, gymnastics, rowing and rugby league.

The decrease in participation is especially noticeable among target groups including women, those with a disability and the over-55s. Membership numbers at local sports clubs are also falling.

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat culture spokesman, said of the figures: "[They] show that not only is the Government failing to make progress in getting Britain active, but the situation is actually getting worse among some groups.

"It increasingly looks as if the key Olympic legacy pledge of increasing sports participation will be a complete non-starter.

"With many community sports clubs threatened with closure and membership falling, the Government must take urgent action to protect local facilities and playing fields if they are to have any chance of delivering a sports legacy for the Games."

A spokesman for the DCMS said: "Legacy has always been key to London 2012 from the outset and, with just over three years to go until the start of London 2012, we already have firm foundations for a lasting legacy from the Games.

"In east London, the Olympics are creating better transport links, new homes, world-class sporting, educational and cultural facilities and jobs. Over the next few years more than 30,000 people will help build the Olympics and the Olympic Village, with more than 2,000 apprenticeship and training opportunities.

"We recognise that the London Olympics are a unique opportunity to get people excited and inspired by the Games. Wider investment in sport has helped us achieve a record medal haul in Beijing and half a million more people taking part in sport at grassroots level.

"Some people say this would have happened anyway. It wouldn't. The Government's commitment, the investment of public money and the public's enthusiasm for sport have all been boosted by the Games.

"We also want to use the power of the Games to encourage people to play a positive part in their communities, and the Active Generation scheme was one of a number of proposed solutions.

"We are currently working on an ambitious new campaign to increase participation in all projects inspired by the Olympics in communities right across the country, through local projects linked to the Games. This will launch next year."

On the issue of security, Jacqui Smith, then Home Secretary, launched an Olympic Security Directorate in March to oversee anti-terror plans for the three-week event.

Yet a Whitehall source claimed that the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure, an arm of MI5, had carried out a series of threat assessments for the Olympic park and other venues, as well as transport links, which has not been properly followed by planners.

Lord West of Spithead, the sole remaining member of Gordon Brown's "government of all the talents", is the lead minister for Olympic security, although the Home Secretary is responsible for a safe and secure Olympics, the Home Office said.

The Metropolitan Police appointed Assistant Commissioner Chris Allison in May to take the lead in coordinating and delivering operational policing.

But Lord Patten told the Lords last month that he had heard "continuing murmurs" about a lack of proper security coordination for 2012.

Asked whether the MI5 threat assessment was being adhered to, a Home Office spokesman said: "The Home Office, ODA [Olympic Delivery Authority] and LOCOG have a fully integrated 2012 security strategy in place. In delivering our strategy, we are successfully working with a range of partners to ensure 2012 venues are safe and secure."

Last week, the Olympic Delivery Authority's annual report showed a huge increase in bonuses paid to outside consultants working on the London Games. At the same time, money from the Games' contingency fund has been diverted into paying for the media centre and Olympic Village, after private companies hit by the recession pulled out.

Some £7.5m spent on designing the media centre had to be written off because of the shortfall in investment. Nearly £5m has been wasted on the Olympic Village after a deal with the contractor Lend Lease collapsed.

However, construction overall – covering transport links, stadiums and other venues – is just four days behind schedule, according to an inside source. The recession has also driven down inflation for construction materials, and just 30 per cent of the £2bn contingency fund, part of the overall £9.3bn budget, has been spent, the source claimed.

The source added: "The cost pressures on things like the Olympic Village, the International Broadcasting Centre/Main Press Centre have been huge. A lack of private-sector funding means that the ODA is now providing £355m for the centres rather than the £220m budgeted for.

"However, we're not spending contingency money at the rate forecast, so we've created some headroom [should anything go wrong]. As of the end of June, the overall construction is 39 per cent complete, and we're about four days behind schedule. The contingency money spent is closer to 30 per cent.

"We've made savings from pressures on construction inflation throughout the programme. The Olympic stadium is budgeted at £547m, but we're coming in at about £535m."

Additional reporting by Mark Leftly and Emile Mehmet