The resignation of Jack Lemley needn’t be a blow for the ODA as long as the new chair has a similar independent streak and a rigorous approach to procurement
For the second time, London’s foray into the Olympic Games has lost its head and both of them happened to be American. The loss of Barbara Cassani didn’t unduly prejudice the outcome of the bid for the 2012 Games and I see no reason why the sudden resignation of Jack Lemley should be anything more than a momentary hiccup in the process of delivering them.
I have to confess that when Jack was appointed my immediate reaction was that he was too old and too over there. It seemed to me that it is perfectly sensible, and even healthy, for the chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority to have other business interests but not on the other side of the Atlantic.
However, I came to slightly regret this thinking when I met him since I felt that – despite appearing rather frail from time to time – he had a strong grasp of the issues that should concern him as chairman. I’m speaking here specifically in terms of issues of governance, transparency and ethics.
The ODA is assembling a world-class team. As chief executive, David Higgins has taken an impressively firm grasp of the management of the delivery process from the start (from the ‘B of the bang’’ as Linford Christie was prone to say). Taken together with its delivery partner, this is a seriously experienced client. But it is also seriously attached to the industry in many places. It needs a chairman whose role is completely independent of the management and whose responsibility it is to make certain that every procurement decision and appointment is entirely transparent and evidence-based.
I don’t think anyone can be blamed for the circumstances that have left only one iron in the fire as far as the design and build of the Olympic Stadium is concerned but it is a worry nonetheless. The apparent loss of competition at this early stage creates a number of vulnerabilities, which will have to be managed carefully. There is nothing to guarantee that the Sir Robert McAlpine/HOK Sport/Buro Happold consortium will actually bid for the project. What would happen then?
The careful balance between good governance and creative and effective management is a finely tuned achievement that is not always met with success. With our national credibility at stake, it is essential for ‘Team GB’ to get this balance right in delivering the Olympics.