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One of the key figures organising the London Games, Sir Robin Wales says Londoners should be asking not what 2012 could do for them but they could do for their community. Kurt Barling reports.
Jack Lemley is the outspoken head of the team preparing the delivery of the London Olympics. A flurry of administrative activity over the past month has confirmed the policy for procurement and the commercial delivery partners to ensure his 2-4-1 mission is achieved.
Two years to prepare the groundwork for the Olympic Plan; four years to build the Olympic venues and infrastructure; and one year to test everything works before the Games begin on 27 July 2012.
The ink is barely dry on the contracts that have appointed CLM as the consortium to manage the projects on the ground, and now the questions of who is going to benefit from one of the largest construction projects in modern times come to the fore.
Much was made of the importance of securing a legacy in one of the poorest parts of London during the Olympic bid. At a time when social cohesion is a critical part of the political agenda, delivering benefits in the run up to the Games is a big local issue. The first issue on many people’s minds is employment.
There is some precedent already in the Olympic run-up to get big construction companies to actively recruit locally. In the programme to move the overhead power cables underground, the construction companies have worked closely with local employment agencies.
Also, across the five Olympic boroughs, the government employment service has got involved in outreach work into local schools and colleges to encourage school leavers to think actively about the opportunities that may arise - firstly in the construction sector over the next few years, but also in other sectors as the Olympics approach.
There has been much press speculation about a perceived inability of local people to compete with workers from other parts of the European Union. Romanians and Poles are said to present a real alternative to local labour.
If it’s true that these workers are prepared to work for lower wages, it places an extra responsibility on those managing 2012’s procurement policies to deal with recruits fairly.
Large and small contractors will be expected to abide by the agreement hammered out between London Citizens (a civic organisation lobbying on behalf of poorer Londoners) and Mayor Ken Livingstone in November 2004 that workers would be paid no less than a living wage of £7.05 per hour.
London citizens have told BBC London that they are no longer convinced this “obligation” will be honoured. They claim this could lead to a major breakdown in trust given that they believe this deal was struck to get their enthusiastic support when the International Olympic Committee came to London in February 2005.
Of course it may be that many local young people don’t want jobs in construction and may find fruitful employment elsewhere. This is a point made by the business people in one of the leading boroughs in the Olympic venture.
I spent a day last week with the elected Mayor, Sir Robin Wales, in Green Street which has become a vibrant shopping district. People come from all over Britain and even Europe to buy goods here.
It’s not uncommon to see a coachful of shoppers from as far away as Scandinavia coming to Green Street to pick up traditional South Asian products.
The bulk of the businesses along Green Street are South Asian-owned, like its equivalent in Tower Hamlets, Brick Lane. Significant private investment and local authority managed regeneration money has transformed this area. These businesses are among those which 2012 say are an integral part of the economic regeneration associated with the Games.
A recent survey for The Young Foundation (Bridging the Gap) suggests that these businesses have been inadequately consulted about future business opportunities.
A number of business owners I spoke to confirmed that they have not been involved in any meaningful discussions about how Green Street could be planning for 2012 and beyond.
For his part Sir Robin displayed a flexible approach to how local people and businesses could address the opportunities that flow from the regeneration of this part of the East End. He believes that not only must potential employees be equipping themselves with the right skills to compete, but businesses themselves must seek out opportunities.
He says the local authority has a supportive role, one that should facilitate these efforts. Clearly better dialogue will be needed to achieve this.
I recently reported from Atlanta in the United States on the legacy there of the 1996 Olympics. One of the messages coming from those involved in the city’s regeneration was that their legacy was delivered by having as many local partners involved in the project from the start.
Certainly Sir Robin who sits on LOCOG, the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, knows that he has to lobby his colleagues including Sebastian Coe very hard. The more intense the work becomes on delivering the site to LOCOG on time in 2011, the more pressure there will possibly be to ignore local concerns.
The Olympics will not solve all the East End’s problems by any stretch of the imagination. In fact Newham Council for one has not put all its eggs in one basket. The huge Stratford retail re-development is another significant project which should generate local employment and wealth creation.
Although a Scot, Sir Robin Wales is very keen on the team that plays its home matches at the bottom of Green Street, West Ham United. As he points out, the mood there has taken a dramatic upswing since the arrival of two spectacular Argentinian signings and he hopes that the 2012 will create a similar feeling that great things are possible within the borough.
Hopes of renewal
He recognises that the East End has become synonymous with the arrival of migrants over several generations. It has also become associated with people moving out once they achieve success or social mobility.
What the boroughs of Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Newham in particular clearly hope is that locals will help re-invent the boroughs as some of the most dynamic and prosperous in the capital - places where people migrate to and stay from other parts of London too.
What the Olympics can do is focus attention on what is achievable and how local people can play their part in making that part of London a beacon of success. In so doing it could change the aspirations of a generation and finally debunk the urban myth of an unattractive East End.
last updated: 19/05/2008 at 14:43