As if Londoners - and the rest of We The People around the UK - had not seen enough of the wasted millions of the capital’s very occasional former Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson’s disastrous eight-year tenure of City Hall, there is now more to add to the vanity buses, the vanity cable car, the badly-implemented cycle hire scheme, the never-used-in-anger water cannon, and the cancelled vanity Garden Bridge.
A complete Muppet. And Elmo from Sesame Street
The latest headache for his successor Sadiq Khan is the London Stadium, constructed for the 2012 Summer Olympics, which has since been repurposed for the dual roles of athletics - and as the new home of West Ham United FC. Bozza oversaw the deal under which the Hammers became the main tenants. He was warned that West Ham United paying a rent of just £2.5 million a year was not good value for taxpayers.
Indeed, more than a year ago, David Conn at the Guardian told readers that “The former Olympic Stadium, now home to West Ham United, is facing operational losses running into millions of pounds for years to come due to problems finding a naming-rights partner and hugely increased costs for retractable seating”. There was more.
“Although the mayor is believed to have been advised the contract with West Ham appears to be legally binding, he is determined to look into the ‘full range’ of financial issues now that the cost of converting the stadium has risen by a further £51m to £323m, taking the overall cost of the stadium since the Olympic bid was won to £752m. The Football Association spent £757m building the new Wembley, which opened in 2007”. It does not need stressing that the London Stadium is not quite Wembley standard.
So it should have been no surprise to anyone when Khan revealed yesterday “This morning I’ve published the independent review into the mismanagement of London Stadium finances by the former Mayor. It reveals a catalogue of errors that has left the taxpayer to foot an annual loss of around £20 million”. That’s £20 million every year - another of Bozza’s jolly spiffing legacies to Londoners.
David Conn therefore reprised his role in examining the stadium’s finances today, noting that, in addition to the £20 million a year, the conversion costs alone cost nearly £300 million. Could it get worse? It certainly could - a lot worse.
“The rent agreed for West Ham, £2.5m per year, does not approach covering the costs of operating the stadium, with which the new deal burdened the public sector. The current publicly owned operator, E20, is losing £10-£20m a year, the report stated – including losing £2.25m hosting West Ham to play football, which costs £4.75m a season”.
The London Stadium
And worse: “Newham borough council, which loaned £40m towards the conversion of the stadium for West Ham, has accepted it will not see that money repaid and has withdrawn from the E20 partnership. Khan announced that he, through the mayoral body the London Legacy Development Corporation, will take control of the stadium and seek to staunch its losses”. Not surprisingly, Sadiq Khan has not minced his words about Bozza’s legacy.
“What has been presented is simply staggering … Not for the first time, it reveals a bungled decision-making process that has the previous mayor’s fingerprints all over it … Boris Johnson clearly panicked when faced with legal challenges about West Ham and Newham’s joint bid to take ownership of the stadium and then decided to rerun the bid process with the taxpayer taking all the risks and footing almost the whole bill. You simply couldn’t make it up. The fact he also failed to properly examine the transformation costs or the entirely inadequate estimates for moving the retractable seats leaves us squarely in the dire financial situation we are in”. And there is worse at the end.
Bozza had committed funding to help Spurs’ bid to demolish their old White Hart Lane ground and build a new venue on the same site - so the Hammers were in what was termed “A very strong negotiating position”. The one negotiating tactic that Bozza’s team could have used - and arguably should have used - was to have a “no deal” option and be prepared to walk away. They did not, and West Ham United cleaned up.
And the supposedly repurposed stadium has been shown to be less than totally ideal for use as a Premier League ground - with Hammers fans fighting among one another at one early season match in 2016.
The London Stadium fiasco ought to see Boris Johnson barred from public office for life. Yet there he is, representing his country on the world stage as the most inept Foreign Secretary since the role was created, with his press pals willing on his every move, even to the extent of backing him as a future Prime Minister.
As the saying goes, you really couldn’t make this up. So no change there, then.