I had a drink with an old chum who is now working for Crossrail the other night. I am a huge supporter of Crossrail, and was very impressed indeed at the way that they hit the ground running with their sudden holes all over London (piled in massive haste, presumably before anyone could stop them), but I was a bit shocked to learn that there are 800 of them in their office down there at Canary Wharf. I was even more astonished to learn that they have been told that – in stark contrast to the rest of the tenants of the City and Canary Wharf – the staff MUST be there every day, at the office, during the Olympics. Not only that, but all annual leave is banned for all staff.
I can only guess this is a knock-on from the uncomfortable concordat that’s been struck with the tube and bus drivers. What’s juice for the goose and so on… But is Boris really saying that he will make every single part of TfL attend every day; 800 Crossrail peeps and then the rest of TfL, the likes of the marketing department, the planners, the HR types, in fact almost all of the folk in all the various professions in employment. Surely this is mad. He should put those staff necessary to keeping the network going (the actual drivers, the station staff and the maintenance people) to the one side and plan for all the others not to be in the office. If that makes you too nervous, Mr Mayor, by all means have them all on 24-hour call; but several thousand people could be taken off the transport system in one fell swoop by having most of TfL work from home. Isn’t that what you are suggesting to the rest of us?
You know, I try not to be a Cassandra, but if I was Boris Johnson or David Cameron I would be having serious nightmares about the Olympics by now. There was another item on the news today in respect of the desperate need to build up blood reserves before the Games. Frankly, unless you put the army in charge, we’re really not great at this stuff. You’ve only got to look at the fact that someone asked Keith Moon to attend the opening ceremony. And we all know it really doesn’t take much to grind London to a halt. But I am assured by folk in the know that it will be alright on the night, and I seriously hope that my misgivings are not founded. After all, I am old and curmudgeonly, as has been often observed…
And then there’s the Legacy! Oh blimey that’s another minefield. Nobody seems willing to face one of the most uncomfortable facts about Olympic legacies which is simply this: that they tend not to be a success. In the public mind, with the exception of Barcelona, legacies have been regarded with varying degrees of disappointment, and are often forgotten. Or worse, they actually taint a city’s image and future. With the best possible will (and “Legacy” was one of the major tenets of our own original bid for the Games, of course) there will be a “gap” between the grand expectations attached to legacy, and the more simple tangible things that an Olympics actually leaves behind – which will amount to a park, a “village”, some sports arenas, some land for development, a dirty great shopping centre, all within a very small geographical envelope, although admittedly served by superlative infrastructure.
Our politicians spin a compelling story of profound social and behavioural outcomes as a core part of the legacy product, but we funked the local employment opportunities at the construction phase of the park, and there is no clear theory of urban change or management strategy to back up this longer term aspiration. Can you really build people out of poverty, as our legacy mafia seems to imply? Time will tell. At the very least this will demand careful thought and planning, long term political commitment across all tiers of government involved, clever and probably quite novel cooperation between many different public and private agencies, and – inevitably – a lot more money. Putting on “a Legacy” is far more challenging than simply putting on “a Games”, and we have still to see if we’re any cop at that! And after the running races are over, we won’t have any of that adrenaline to drive it along.