Friday, 1 July 2011

The Long Good Friday

For years there's been peace - everyone to his own patch. We've
all had it sweet. I've done every single one of you favours in the past - I've
put money in all your pockets. I've treated you well, even when you was out of
order, right? Well now there's been an eruption... and believe me, all of you,
nobody goes home until I find out who done it, and why...
The Olympic Park Legacy Company is facing major embarrassment after revealing that it has suspended an employee who had been undertaking paid consultancy work for West Ham United during the stadium bid process. Writing in this morning's Telegraph, Paul Kelso states the revelation raises questions over the probity of the award of the Olympic Stadium to West Ham, who were selected by OPLC as the preferred bidder in a process facing legal challenges from Tottenham Hotspur and Leyton Orient. It has also been disclosed that as well as working for West Ham, the suspended female employee- who is not being named- also previously worked for Newham Council, West Ham’s partner in the stadium bid. The revelation of the employee’s compromised position came as Tottenham were granted a court hearing to apply for full disclosure from Newham Council of details of the £40 million loan that West Ham are relying on to convert the stadium after the Games.

The OPLC board, in charge of securing the future of the Olympic Park site, voted 14-0in February to make West Ham United the first choice to move into the £486m stadium. The club was in a head-to-head contest with Tottenham Hotspur. It insisted last night that the employee, who works in the corporate services department, had not worked on the stadium process and had no access to OPLC’s systems or documentation, but it is understood that a review of its internal procedures has been launched. The employee is understood to be in a relationship with someone working at West Ham and to have declared that when joining the OPLC. The paid consultancy work, however, was not revealed. The employee’s compromised position only came to light only after the OPLC was contacted by a journalist investigating the conflict of interest.

The OPLC said: "This individual had no involvement whatsoever in our stadium process. The individual concerned had declared a personal relationship with an employee of West Ham United when she joined the organisation and we therefore put robust measures in place to ensure our stadium process was not compromised. The stadium team has been based at our law firm Eversheds’ offices in the City and only the stadium team had access to information about the bids. As soon as this new information came to light, the company took immediate action and launched an independent investigation. The employee has been suspended pending the outcome of this."

West Ham also released a statement, stressing their belief that the bidding process had not been compromised. The statement read: "We have become aware of inquiries being made in respect of a lady who has undertaken work for West Ham United on a consultancy basis relating to the Olympic stadium project. Having learned of the inquiries, we have undertaken an initial internal investigation. We have established that the work that was carried out was not connected in any way to the bidding process for the Olympic stadium, but procurement project management thereafter. We are of the firm view that the integrity of the bidding process has not been compromised. We consider that the bidding process was robust and believe that remains the case."

The decision to award the Olympic stadium to West Ham is still subject to possible judicial reviews. The OPLC moved the base for the Olympic stadium bidding process away from its east London headquarters to its lawyers' offices in central London. It is believed that this precaution has given the OPLC confidence that no information could be discovered, even accidentally. This week Tottenham went back to the high court to continue their bid for a judicial review of the decision to award the Olympic stadium to West Ham. Last week Judge Mr Justice Davis rejected Spurs' and Leyton Orient's challenge for the stadium. The north London club now have the chance to make a case in an oral hearing at the high court.

Although Tottenham continue to fight a legal battle over the Olympic Stadium, they also remain keen to resurrect plans to redevelop White Hart Lane, reports the Mail. Spurs first revealed their Northumberland Development Project proposals in 2008 to increase the stadium's capacity to 60,000 but the soaring costs saw their ambitions derailed. Spurs are now looking into a number of alternatives including reviving their original plan which involves building a stadium on the current site and its adjacent land. The majority of fans are desperate for Spurs to stay in their North London borough of Haringey, and the club intend to reduce to costs of the redevelopment by applying for public money.

According to the Mail, Spurs have applied to the Regional Growth Fund (RGF) for a grant that will help regenerate the area around White Hart Lane, which is one of the poorest in the capital. The RGF awards funding for projects that will directly create jobs through private sector enterprise and growth that will enable or unlock future private sector jobs growth, particularly in those areas and communities that are currently dependent on the public sector. The NDP represents a multi-million pound private sector-led regeneration scheme for North Tottenham, in an area where 40% of children live in households claiming benefits and a ward (Northumberland Park) where 71.6% claim employment and support allowance (national average 1.5%). The area is heavily dependent on the public sector.

Spurs chairman Daniel Levy said: "The NDP plans represent sport-led regeneration, anchored by our proposed new stadium. It would directly create thousands of new, private sector jobs, attract millions of pounds of additional expenditure in the local economy and lever further private sector investment into the area. As importantly, it would also protect the hundreds of current Club jobs, its existing economic impact and the valuable work of the Club's charitable Foundation in the local communities, by enabling us to stay in our current location. We are one of the few large private sector employers in the Borough and the NDP is currently the sole significant proposed scheme for creating sustainable private sector jobs. Quite simply the Club is the only private entity looking to invest, on this scale, in the Borough and reverse the decline of decades of underinvestment."

The timing of this development only adds to the suspicion that the ongoing legal wrangle has now become less about the Olympic Stadium, and more about securing recompense for the wasted resources, time and effort spent on a bid Daniel Levy feels he was solicited to make. Like a indignant Harold Shand manipulated into impotent rage by events he can't quite understand, Levy is lining up the meat hooks, intent on making a stand on a point of principle. If the corollary of this is to pressure or embarrass the authorities into greasing the wheels of financial aid then all the better. It can't hurt that half the people who work for David Cameron are Spurs fans. Arsenal got funding for their stadium and surrounding areas, West Ham got a huge loan and a brand spanking new stadium. It’s only right, thinks Levi, I should get a piece of that pie in developing one of the most run down areas in London. The government would eventually have to do it themselves anyway. It's uniting moral imperative and practical expediency in a simultaneous Pax and Pox realpolitik.

RGF monies would be used to deliver a package of major infrastructure improvements which are vital if the project is to act as a platform for wider regeneration and crucial if the whole project is to be made viable. These would include station upgrades, public community space, employment and training facilities, restored listed properties, Combined Cooling Heating Plant, site enabling and public realm works. In support of the bid, Claire Kober, Leader, Haringey Council said, "The Council and Club are doing everything possible to make this scheme a reality, but the hard fact is that additional public sector financial support is needed to stimulate regeneration in this area. Without this it will be difficult for the scheme to provide the catalyst to economic growth and job creation in an area of high unemployment. Approval to the RGF bid will help unlock the transformation of the area. RGF funds will contribute to vital infrastructure improvements which are key for the scheme to proceed in a sustainable way. This will then underpin not only the new stadium and associated developments but also further development of new homes and jobs in the wider area leveraging additional value from the RGF investment."

Levy added: "We are working hard to make the Northumberland Development Project (NDP) scheme viable and enable us to stay in Tottenham and redevelop our existing site. Public sector assistance for infrastructure and public realm works would enable us to deliver the project and the RGF represents the single most important route for funding. Our hope must be that there is a recognition of the real need for investment in the Northumberland Park ward and that this project presents a real opportunity to deliver sustainable long-term, private sector-led regeneration."

Tottenham MP David Lammy, who has long campaigned to keep Spurs in Haringey, stated: "I support this bid by Tottenham Hotspur, which has the opportunity to transform an entire community with the highest unemployment in London. The plan to redevelop White Hart Lane is far and away the most exciting regeneration project in London after the Olympics, and it is encouraging that it is private sector-led. This Regional Growth Fund proposal will benefit everyone in Tottenham and I urge the government to agree to Spurs’ bid."

Now find me Boris Johnson, I'll have his carcass dripping blood by midnight...

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