The Government is putting Locog, the organisers of the London Olympic Games, "under pressure" to make sure that the next round of ticket sales, in April, avoids the pitfalls that led to widespread dissatisfaction last year. However, the Government admitted there is little that can be done regarding calls for greater transparency on how Locog spends its £2bn budget.
Under the terms of the agreement signed with the International Olympic Committee when London was awarded the Games, Locog is a private company. The majority of its money is raised through sponsorship, sales of tickets and merchandise, but it also receives £154m of public funding. It has been criticised for a lack of openness over ticketing – notably in revealing the numbers available to the public for blue-riband events – and because no accounts will be released until around Christmas, well after the Games have finished.
"We walked into this with our eyes open in 2005," said Hugh Robertson, the Minister for the Olympics. "If we had not agreed to do this we would not have won the Olympics. We have to abide by the agreements we signed in 2005. I am, however, very aware of the increasing feeling that people want more access to Locog. I have made sure that any public money that goes into Locog will be subject to exactly the same scrutiny as the money that has gone to the ODA [the Olympic Delivery Authority, which builds the park].
"[Locog] are a private company, but they are a private company with a very public face. They are subject to examination by the Public Accounts Committee, by parliamentary committees. They are subject to much greater scrutiny than any other private company. I have no remit over the money they raise privately, all I can do is to apply the rules that I've set out to any public money. That is my responsibility to the UK taxpayer."
The next batch of tickets goes on sale in April, including 40,000 for athletics. First, 20,000 applicants who were wrongly told they had secured tickets in the earlier ballot will get another opportunity, before a five-day window for around a million people who failed in the first ballot. Any tickets left will go on general sale. Once the sales process is complete, Robertson said, Locog will be expected to publish a breakdown, even though that may not be until after the Games.
"What is important is that we get this April right," Robertson said. "It's no secret that there has been friction between Locog and Ticketmaster [which conducts the sale]. The system has not delivered in exactly the way they want it to. We are putting Locog under pressure to deliver this in absolutely the best way they can. The crucial thing is that everything is done to get that right and when we've got the whole picture then that's made available to the public. I don't want them distracted now by publishing information instead of getting that process right."
The Government is "increasingly confident" of bringing in the construction of the Games facilities within its £9.3bn publicly funded budget. In the latest quarterly update, published yesterday, there remains, with 96 per cent of the project completed, £527m of contingency available. The expectation is for "north of £100m" to be left unspent.