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Olympics

Volume 480: debated on Monday 6 October 2008

The Minister for the Olympics was asked—

Site Landscaping

Before I answer the hon. Lady’s question, I am sure that the whole House will want to congratulate Team GB on its extraordinary performance in Beijing in the summer, where it came fourth in the medal table, and also to congratulate the really amazing and uplifting performance and achievement of our Paralympic athletes, who came second in the medal table—a foretaste of what is to come in London in 2012.

As for the landscaping of the Olympic park, the total budget for landscaping the site is more than £240 million. The Olympic Delivery Authority announced in late September that Edmund Nuttall would be the contractor to manage the delivery of the northern section of the Olympic park. That firm will procure and manage a large number of specialist subcontractors and suppliers, which means that there will be many further opportunities for businesses around the country, through the CompeteFor network, to bid to be part of landscaping the Olympic park.

May I echo the Minister’s remarks, and may I also say that the investment and foresight of John Major in creating the lottery for the purpose of the Olympics has been vindicated many times over? Is the Minister aware that the landscaping contracts are subject to environmental constraints—such as all materials needing to be brought to the Olympics site by barge—and does she not think it perverse that a German company is being allowed to contract for the landscaping project in preference to Johnson’s of Whixley in Vale of York, and other British companies?

On the hon. Lady’s point about the achievement of investment in sport, yes, the lottery has certainly played an invaluable role in funding our athletes, but so too has the sevenfold increase in the funding of Sport England since 1997. On the detail of the contracts that she has raised, and particularly on her specific constituency interest, I shall be very happy to write to her.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that David Higgins and his team in the Olympic Delivery Authority have done a magnificent job in the preparation of the Olympic park, including the environmental work and the soil cleaning, and that it is essential that they should have the maximum freedom to award contracts in a way that will deliver most cost-effectively and successfully? That kind of political interference—suggesting that contracts should be awarded by individual Members of Parliament—is entirely inappropriate to the successful running of the Olympic games.

As I am sure that every Member of the House will recognise, being an advocate for businesses in their local area is entirely legitimate, but my right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that value for money and timeliness will be the criteria by which the award of contracts will be judged.

May I associate colleagues on this side of the House entirely with the Minister’s congratulations to our Olympians and Paralympians? She will be aware that the ODA has spent a lot of time touring the party conferences over the past three weeks, warning of the necessary increases in the budget to deal with the current economic situation. However, the landscaping contract, among others, must also be subject to pressures in the opposite direction. Building cost inflation is now lower than it was, and the labour market has eased. Will she arrange for the ODA to present a statement to the House, following her report in July, to show which costs have gone down, as well as showing those that have gone up?

The hon. Gentleman is well aware of the reporting arrangements that apply, as well as the level of transparency, the three-monthly reports and the regular briefings that are provided to members of the Opposition parties. There is ample opportunity to examine those figures in the way that he suggests, including through the Select Committee, without placing a further burden on the ODA, which is getting on with the job of delivering the Olympic park on time and on budget, and doing it very well.

Paralympic Games

2. If she will make a statement on the participation of people with learning disabilities in the London 2012 Paralympic Games. (224391)

The Government fully support efforts to see athletes with intellectual disability eligible to compete in the Paralympic Games. I am delighted that the International Paralympic Committee and the International Sports Federation for Persons with Intellectual Disability envisage that that should be possible for the London 2012 games. That is reliant, however, on some additional work in order to ensure full fairness, and I am delighted that the Department is helping to fund that further research.

I am very grateful to the Minister for that answer. I am sure that she was as heartened as I was by the announcement during the Paralympic games that progress had been made on an objective test so that it could be verified that athletes did indeed have a learning disability. I am sure that she will welcome swift progress towards allowing these people to compete. We both share the vision of having them compete in London 2012, which will be particularly important for those who train at the Forest fitness centre in my constituency. For them, the goal of participating in the London Olympics or Paralympics is indeed inspirational.

I fully recognise that this would be both a popular and fair move—one that I have argued for throughout my long association with the Olympic movement. I very much hope that negotiations will conclude and allow athletes with learning disabilities to take part in the 2012 games.

Notwithstanding changes in the Olympics and Paralympics and the success that Loughborough has had, will the Minister also recognise the special place of the Special Olympics, which will come to the city of Leicester in 2009? I declare an interest as a board member, but this should not be just a Leicester city or county-wide celebration; it should be a nationwide celebration of people with learning difficulties participating in the Special Olympics.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I am quite sure that Leicester will look forward to welcoming the world to the Special Olympics when they are hosted there next year. I look forward to attending them.

Legacy (North-West England)

I regularly meet the nations and regions group to ensure that the UK-wide legacy of such an important promise as the 2012 Olympics is delivered in practice. The groundwork for the legacy in the north-west is already in place. The hon. Lady will no doubt be aware of the success of firms in the north-west in procuring contracts for a number of training camps for Olympians and Paralympians. I am also delighted in respect of the broader legacy of greater participation in sport and about the significant number of local authorities in the north-west which have taken up the Secretary of State’s proposal to offer free swimming in order to get the north-west fit for 2012.

I am grateful for that answer and I can confirm that the Alsager campus of the Manchester Metropolitan university has been selected as a training camp, mainly because it is recognised as the foremost college of sports science and medicine and because it has outstanding facilities. What will be the specific benefits of the Olympic legacy to the north-west, particularly for young people? Will there be more coaches, more volunteers and more opportunities for physical activity? Will the Minister be more specific about the benefits?

I have set out the what the benefits are now—what is happening and what is already in place. The hon. Lady may be interested in attending a briefing on 13 October, at which the Organising Committee and others will set out the legacy in more detail. Having been through the briefing papers on the legacy for the north-west, I will be happy to place a detailed report in the Library. Here on the Floor of the House, I believe Members are on edge to hear more about the financial markets rather than the Olympic legacy for the north-west, but I am happy to provide that information, as I said.

Does the Minister agree that the legacy in the north-west would be greatly enhanced if the Government moved with the same speed as our wheelchair athletes, swimmers and cyclists towards a system of gross profits tax, as suggested on the Liberal Democrat Benches three years ago, as that would enhance the resources available to good causes, not only in the north-west but everywhere else in the country?

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that, although that matter is not entirely straightforward, the Government have reached an agreement to look at it again. It is in everybody’s interest that every pound of lottery money is spent to produce maximum public interest, particularly given the commitment to the Olympics.