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panta rei dans lullaby

Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'

Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.

June 2nd, 2016

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by Martin French

Let's talk about swimming pools! We've touched on this subject, via TheImp, in a very general way but the more we started digging into the massive amounts of money being spent on the "greatest show on earth" that is The Olympics in London in 2012 the more fascinating and disturbing it all becomes.

If you cast your mind back a few weeks Arts Council England, under instructions from the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), was told to cut £19Million from its current budget. That cut meant every arts organisation in England took a financial hit to varying degrees.

Small to medium scale organisation in particular will be struggling with even the smallest of cuts and more are predicted to be on the way from the world's biggest collection of spoilsports that is the UK's coalition government.

As you may expect the Olympics are also the responsibility of the DCMS.

Pools of Water

So what has this got to do with swimming pools we hear you cry? Well, the swimming pool currently being constructed for "The Games" will, if it stays on budget, run to a cool £247Million in total cost for construction. That doesn't include running costs or the costs of insurance. It is also the second most expensive sports venue after the Olympic stadium itself.

To be fair the "Aquatics Centre" is actually two swimming pools and a diving pool but as TheImp pointed out, Olympics or not we're talking about a hole in the ground filled with water, or three holes to be more precise.

If you're wondering how much a regular swimming pool costs, and why wouldn't you, then you can ask Hillingdon Council in West London. They recently opened an Olympic size pool with a second outdoor pool, an athletics stadium and a sports centre all for the bargain basement sum of £31Million.

Even taking into account seating for spectators, which for swimming events are enormous (sarcasm much? Ed!), it looks a lot like somebody is spending a huge amount of money on a minority spectator sport that lasts just a few days.

Asking The Question

The real fun/despair begins when you start asking the people in charge of all this, The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) and the DCMS, to explain themselves. To put it simply, they won't or they can't explain themselves, take your pick.

When TheImp reported that the ODA said their swimming pool costs that much "just because", he was not exaggerating. The DCMS are no better. When asked to provide a detailed cost breakdown of just what the money was being spent on they refused telling Article19 in a statement;

"The Government has been extremely transparent about the cost of the Olympics, voluntarily publishing quarterly reports giving a detailed breakdown the Olympic finances. The National Audit Office reviews the project on a regular basis and is happy that it represents value for money. This unprecedented transparency obviously does not go as far as to tell potential contractors how much money we have to spend as this would clearly lead to getting poor value for the taxpayers' investment."

The IOC

The International Olympic Committee, who oversee The Olympics, should be remembered, upon their demise, as the most effective con artists in all of human history.

Essentially these characters manage to get countries to beg to host The Olympics, spending huge sums of money in the process. Once the country is awarded the competition they are then saddled with the bill to pay for everything.

Overall the cost for the London 2012 games is £11.3Billion. £9.3Billion on infrastructure, paid for with public money and a further £2Billion raised in private sponsorship by LOCOG to actually stage the games. The IOC contribute just one third of the operating cost of the games from selling TV rights and sponsorship.

Paying for the athletes is not covered by either of those budgets.

P.T. Barnum would be put to shame by this.

What they mean by transparent is publishing a report every three months that simply tells us, and everybody else, the total cots of each individual contract. That's how we know they are willing to spend £247Million on a swimming pool.

Unfortunately, without a detailed budget breakdown it is impossible to tell exactly why this particular venue is so expensive. How much was spent on architects, consultants, building materials, land, etc. As for the National Audit Office (independent non-government financial oversight body), the last report they published on the Olympics was two years ago.

During a detailed conversation with the NAO press office they told us that their job as auditors is not to comment on the merits of a particular project. They just make sure the DCMS (via the ODA) is not spending all the money on parties. Although our metaphor was slightly frivolous the NAO agreed that is was, more or less, exactly what they do. They just make sure that the £247Million is actually being spent on the swimming pool.

The Committee

Oversight of what the DCMS and the ODA are doing with regard to the Olympics falls firmly on the shoulders of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. This committee is a group of eleven Members of Parliament (MPs) with six members, including the chairman, from the current majority government and five from the opposition parties.

The last report this committee provided on the 2012 games was more than two years ago, in April 2008. It does however provide some pointed language on just what the committee thought of the Aquatics Centre project overall at that time.

In their statement to us the DCMS claims to be unable to provide detailed budgets as this would, potentially, undermine the ability of the ODA to secure contracts that provided the best "[value for money]"

The Select Committee however undermines this claim in their report stating;

" We are concerned that the ODA only managed to attract one firm bidder for the project, who would clearly have been aware of the huge level of contingency available to the Games as a whole. We note that in the press release of 8 April 2008, announcing the award of the contract, the ODA stated that "The total of £303 million* has not changed throughout the procurement process". We find this simply incredible and call upon the ODA to provide a detailed justification of this statement...."

Essentially what they are saying is that the main contractor, building firm Balfour Beatty, already knew how much money the ODA were willing to spend and since they were the only ones bidding for the contract then any notion of obtaining "value for money" is a fantasy.

They go on;

"The concept of the Aquatics Centre might be spectacular and eye-catching; but the saga so far suggests it has been over-designed and, with respect to the robustness of its legacy use, will be an expensive way of providing facilities for water sports needed during and after the Games."

Using our in house Government Language Translator™ they are saying "we can't believe you're spending this much money on a bloody swimming pool, are you crazy?"

The Committee finishes off their comment on the Aquatics Centre with a body slam to the canvas;

"In our opinion, the history of the Aquatics Centre shows a risible approach to cost control and that the Games organisers seem to be prepared to spend money like water."

Pun intended we presume.

They don't use the words "value" or "cost effective" at all. We are currently seeking comment from both the ODA and the DCMS on the Committee's report.

Tickets

When we compared the Olympics to the Edinburgh Festival and Festival Fringe we compared tickets sold, by the arts festivals, versus tickets available for the Olympics.

LOCOG told us that there are 8 Million tickets available for the Olympics and 2 Million for the Paralympics. Of those tickets 2.5Million (approximately) are not available for sale to the general public, they are for sponsors, corporate guests etc.

The Edinburgh festivals combined had ticket sales of 8.8 Million over four years. The vast majority of the tickets that will be on sale for the Olympics will be for qualifying events and somewhat obscure sports like archery and pretty much every other Olympic sport.

Even in the highly unlikely event that LOCOG sold all of the publicly available tickets they would still come in well under the ticket sales for Edinburgh arts festivals and we haven't even included the film festival, jazz festival or book festival in our totals.

Why? Why? Why?

Right about now you are probably wondering why we, here in TheLab™, are going on about swimming pools and the incredibly dull inner workings of the UK's government.

If nothing else it should give you a good insight into just how the government department responsible for funding the arts thinks. Or rather how they don't appear to think at all irrespective of which party makes up the government of the time.

Even in the face of outright condemnation from an oversight committee the DCMS has carried on regardless. The damning comments about the Aquatics Centre were made two years ago, but the budget is the same, nothing has changed.

The DCMS's ludicrous position that they are protecting the public finances by making information freely available is wholly undermined by their complicity in handing over huge sums of money they cannot justify for extravagant Olympic facilities.

Enabled by the supine Liberal Democrats, the current government are making constant hay about how broke the country is and how they can't afford to pay for anything, ever! We all have to "share the pain" they keep saying, over and over again, ad-infinitum.

Except when it comes to large scale capital projects that the rest of the world are paying a lot of attention to. Sure, the DCMS can penny pinch when it comes to ACE and, ultimately, small and medium scale arts organisations but don't you dare touch Sebastian Coe and his merry band of LOCOG thugs and their preposterous swimming pool because that would never do.

That would be too embarrassing, not for the politicians, but for the country, because it's all about the country, isn't it?

When you consider the furore that erupted, mostly in the tabloid press and Private Eye, about MP's expenses it makes you wonder where the outrage is on this issue. Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that the building contractors working on the Olympic park have copies of The Sun on their dashboard during dinner breaks and not Select Committee reports.

No Doubt

Stories like this one should leave you in no doubt that government spending has very little to do with actual public benefit, especially when we are talking about projects like the Olympics.

London 2012 is a stark illustration that the DCMS is fiscally, morally and intellectually inept. A state of affairs for which the previous and current government are equally culpable.

We've said this before but the Edinburgh Festival and Festival Fringe, hosted annually in Edinburgh, attract more participants and audience members over a four year period than the Olympics.

When asked why the DCMS did not fund the Edinburgh festivals to the tune of £9.3Billion every four years all they could offer was this;

"The Edinburgh Festival and the Olympic Games cannot be compared as like-for-like events. One is an annual arts festival and the other is the largest sporting event in the world, taking place every four years, with a worldwide audience of billions of people."

Perhaps we should be relieved that the DCMS knows the difference between a sports event and an arts event.


ACE's budget for the last financial year was £423Million (less than 0.2% of the national budget). Say what you want about them, we could and have said plenty, but their funding supports thousands of small to medium scale arts organization all over the country with participation and audience numbers in the millions.

To say nothing of, in the dance sector at least, numerous companies creating and performing work of a world class standard, year in, year out.

As far as the Olympics is concerned the DCMS the ODA and so many others are acting like an upmarket street gang with their parent's credit cards. They're buying things nobody needs with somebody else's money and they don't care if they get caught.

To the Ministers at the DCMS too cowardly to be interviewed on these issues (Ed Vaizey, Hugh Robertson and Jeremy Hunt) while telling everybody they have to "share the pain" we'll take our lead from The Daily Show and say "Go F*** Yourselves".

*The £303Million mentioned includes the cost of a connecting bridge, know as the F10 bridge, that is part of the same building contract.

[ DCMS Quarterly report May 2010 ]
[ Select Committee Report on Olympics 2012 ]
[ Select Committee Report Jan 07 ]

  • Pmbrett

    Thank you so much for this brilliant article. I shall be quoting it when the Arts Council turns down my application for a paltry £4000 towards running a rural Youth and Community Theatre on the basis of 'unavoidable' cuts to funding. Outrageous!

  • DO let us know how the application goes, it will be interesting to see the effects of cuts on these type of GFA grants.

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