Page last updated at 12:39 GMT, Tuesday, 26 August 2008 13:39 UK

Will 2012 deliver promised jobs boost?


A sped-up flight from Westminster to the 2012 Olympic site

The staging of the 2012 Olympics in London's East End has been hailed as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to deliver much-needed jobs and training to this deprived area.

But questions are already being asked about how many local people will really benefit from the project.

The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), which is responsible for the construction of the Olympic Park, has set a target of between 10% and 15% for the proportion of the workforce to be drawn from the five London host boroughs - a target which it says is at the "very upper end" of industry best practice and which it is so far exceeding.

But with a downturn in the construction industry making competition for building jobs all the more intense, the pressure is on to make sure the project provides genuine chances for local people.

In the host boroughs of Hackney, Waltham Forest, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Greenwich, unemployment rates are high and all five are in the poorest 15% of boroughs in the country.

Olympic stadium - Team Stadium (including Sir Robert McAlpine, HOK Sport, Bruro Happold)
Aquatics Centre - Balfour Beatty
Velodrome - ISG
IBC/MPC - Carillion/Igloo
Olympic Village - Lend Lease is preferred developer
The East End has been promised 11,000 new and sustainable jobs and the ODA's contractors are all expected to be committed to regeneration and boosting local employment and training opportunities.

With work now well under way at the colossal site, host borough residents currently make up just above a fifth of the 2,500-strong workforce, with 10% of workers having previously been unemployed.

Employment 'challenge'

The ODA says it has appointed contractors that are committed to leaving an employment and skills legacy in east London and to taking on and training local people.

The 10% to 15% target has been set to "focus minds", but is not being treated as a "ceiling", a spokesman says.

He adds: "It is being beaten at the moment through hard work and joined-up working, but it will become more challenging as the numbers of people working on site increases."

The high unemployment rate in east London will make it harder to recruit local people, as will a lack of skilled construction workers compared with other parts of the UK, such as the north of England, according to the ODA.

Hackney MP Diane Abbott is among those voicing fears that the opportunity to really boost jobs and skills will not be realised, leaving the people of the East End "like children pressing their noses against a window" in 2012.

The Olympics project should be raising the stakes

Diane Abbott MP

She says: "Sadly, it seems to me that the reality does not match the talk. It does not match what people have been promised, the number of jobs that will be created or the billions of pounds of public money that have been invested in the Olympics.

"The current figures are dismal. Despite the billions of pounds being poured into the construction of the Olympic park, the numerous training programmes and the huge amount of labour that needs doing, the number of people from the East End who have received jobs there remains low."

She says the aim of 10 to 15% of local workers, which the ODA says would mirror the average number of locals employed on a typical London building site, is "pitifully unambitious".

"The Olympics project should be raising the stakes. It will have no sustainability if local people see 85% to 90% of jobs going to outsiders."

She adds there is a danger some of the large employers will get away with making token gestures towards employing local people rather than really getting to grips with the issue and says a "much more proactive and urgent strategy" is needed.

Sub-contractors, agencies and gangmasters supplying labour to the site use existing networks, or where they can procure workers most cheaply
Local people hoping to work on the Olympic site are encouraged to contact a handful of "broker" agencies linked to Jobcentre Plus - one for each of the host boroughs.

The idea is that these agencies match would-be workers with jobs or the training they need to access jobs on the Olympic site.

But construction workers' union Ucatt suggests recruitment all too often ends up in the hands of sub-contractors, who will simply use the easiest and cheapest methods.

An Ucatt spokesman said: "The ODA has claimed that there are many local people being employed. Anecdotal evidence from our local officials suggests otherwise.

"Sub-contractors, agencies and gangmasters supplying labour to the site use existing networks, or where they can procure workers most cheaply."

Migrant labour

Earlier this year, the government estimated at least 42% of construction workers in London were from Central or Eastern Europe - most of them from Poland.

Ucatt says the proportion of migrant labour on the Olympic site is at least as high as this and warns there is a "real issue" of migrant workers being recruited by employment agencies and then exploited through low pay and excessive working hours.

While the ODA stresses its commitment to local employment, it is not in direct control of who works on the site and is not legally allowed to stipulate that its contractors hire local people.

Instead, it says it is doing everything it can within the law to help local people access jobs and training, including asking companies bidding for contracts how they intend to make this happen and working with contractors, "looking for any signs of slippage and taking steps where necessary".

Brick laying - generic
Thousands of workers will be needed in the next few years

It says its contractors are "no different to any other company" in that they have their existing employees and recruitment methods, including relationships with work agencies.

But it says contractors are working with the ODA and the broker agencies in the host boroughs to fill as many vacancies as possible from the local area, including giving information in advance of what skills they are going to need.

But Josh Ryan-Collins, of independent think-tank the New Economics Foundation, who has been researching the regeneration impact of the games, warns against relying on the contractors to take the initiative in hiring local people or giving contracts to local suppliers.

He says: "When it comes to the crunch, these are businesses mainly concerned with their bottom line, not regenerating east London. Sustainable regeneration is not really built into the contracts, it's not a core requirement."

"There are targets for getting local people into jobs, but it's not clear what will happen if the targets are not hit."

"Are those being taken seriously? I don't think so at the moment and if no-one's being held to account then that could be a problem."

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