Before Peter Whitbread condemns the whole Olympic team for what he says is a budget overrun of £90m on the media centre (26 September, page 34), he should be aware of government budgetary practice. I will try to put the whole process in context.
The government was triumphant when London won the Games. At that stage, winning was everything and cost was immaterial. They then turned to their well-practised strategy of getting the gullible taxpayer to swallow the cost, which will not be known until the final bill has been paid.
By the time a pretty, but judiciously vague, concept is released, the real problems start to emerge, for example the need to relocate properties and remove contaminated earth. A more straightforward client would have allowed for these factors much earlier, but the government conveniently overlooked them.
At this point, the professionals start to develop rough costings, which are still a long way from the accuracy Peter expects. These rough costings produce the need to increase the budget again. The minister gets a mauling on the floor of the House – can she guarantee that this will be the final cost to the taxpayer? She gives a nimble answer (“er yes, maybe”). And so it goes on.
Of course, by this time the government heavies who promised the earth for peanuts have moved on and there is nobody left to blame. This happens regularly and will go on happening. Any alternatives? Yes, hand the scheme to the French.