Page last updated at 20:18 GMT, Thursday, 13 November 2008

Jowell denies Olympic win regrets

Jowell plays down 2012 comments

Olympics minister Tessa Jowell has denied regrets over London's successful bid to host the 2012 Olympics Games.

It has emerged that earlier this week she told leisure chiefs "had we known what we know now" about the economy "we would almost certainly not" have bid.

But she insisted to the BBC that she had meant people may have seen a bid for the games as a "distraction".

She said thousands of UK jobs generated from the games could be "economic gold at a time of economic need".

Ms Jowell's comments to leisure industry bosses on Tuesday evening were revealed in Thursday's Telegraph.

'Austerity Games'

Speaking at the Olympic Park in Stratford, East London, Ms Jowell defended her comments.

She told the BBC: "The important thing is to understand the whole of what I've said, not a little bit of it which has been taken out.

"What I was reflecting was that had we known the economy was going to turn down, the perception of some people might have been that the Olympics would be a distraction or not a solution to this central problem."

There is never a bad time to stage a spectacular event like the Olympics and Paralympic Games, and in the current economic climate, I believe London is extremely fortunate to be hosting the games
Boris Johnson
Mayor of London

The Olympics minister spoke of the economic regeneration in Stratford, saying that the creation of 3,000 jobs on the site, an overall 6bn injection into the economy was "exactly what the economy needs now and it wouldn't have happened without the Olympic Games".

The last time that the games were held in London, in 1948, they were nicknamed the "austerity games" for the frugal nature of the facilities as the UK faced an economic crisis as it struggled to recover from the war.

Ms Jowell rejected the comparison on BBC Radio Four's World at One programme, saying that "these are not austerity games".

She added: "They are games that are being run and delivered within a very clearly defined public sector budget."

The original Olympics budget of 2.4bn rose to 9.35bn last year.

Labour MP Graham Stringer, who never thought the Games should come to London, wants a return to the original budget as "we're living in times of austerity".

The Manchester MP told BBC Radio 4 that existing facilities should be used to create the savings needed to do this, such as hosting cycling events in Manchester's velodrome, housing the Olympic stadium at Wembley and basing equestrian events at Hickstead.

'Fortunate'

Mayor of London Boris Johnson, responding to Ms Jowell's comments, told the BBC that, if he had known of the current recession at the time of the 2005 bid, he would still have supported it.

He said: "There is never a bad time to stage a spectacular event like the Olympics and Paralympic Games, and, in the current economic climate, I believe London is extremely fortunate to be hosting the games.

"The case for the games - if anything - is stronger in difficult times, and I believe that the development under way in the East End will prove a vital shot in the arm for the city when it needs it most."

Asked later about suggestions that foreign investors, such as China, could be asked to help the project in some way, amid concerns about the crisis in the UK construction sector, Mr Johnson said he and government ministers were talking to "many people" about ways they could contribute to the Games' success.

"I would like to see anybody involved who is going to bring in investment to that part of London," he told Channel 4 News.

Meanwhile, Labour MP Frank Field said it was vital ministers squeezed every last penny out of Olympic contractors to make sure they were not "taken to the cleaners".

He added: "We must make the best of this and we must protect more of these jobs for British workers."

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SEE ALSO
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