There are so many grim headlines with bad numbers in them that this morning one which seemed to buck the trend leapt out at me from the Financial Times.
It was not the biggest story on the page – that went to ‘MoD makes cuts to plug budget hole’, alongside ‘Claims of ministry savings queried by NAO.’ Nor was it the most political, cited as it was alongside ‘Cameron reverses on MPs’ tax status.’ No surprise there then.
So, to the headline in question – ‘Olympic site underspend spurs Whitehall cash race.’ Wow! Come again…
‘A race for the spoils of a potential Olympics windfall is in prospect as confidence grows among the team responsible for building the games’ venues that a significant portion of the construction budget will not be spent.’
Now, we are still talking big bucks. But if it is true, as reported, that the Olympic Delivery Authority expects the final cost of construction to come in at £7.2billion, not the last budgeted figure of £8.1bn, then hats off to the ODA.
There was a wonderful little item on the regional BBC News last night, one of those ultraspeeded-up films of the main stadium’s development. For sports fans, infrastructure development followers, and people who just like to see big visions realised, it was a really exciting piece of film.
The usual rhythm of the Olympics is excitement, followed by anger and disappointment as everything seems to go wrong along the way, followed by excitement again as the Games takes place. London appears to be missing out much of the middle bit.
There will doubtless be rocky patches and the occasional setback. But there is a calm and steady progress towards London 2012 that is rather disproving the idea that Britain can no longer do the big projects well.
Calm and steady progress towards a deadline is not exactly how you would characterise the Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen. Then again, Summitry rarely does calm and steady. It tends towards over-excited and over-emotional, not helped in this case by under-organised.
I’d have thought any major event planner could have worked out that if you accredit 45000 people to an event venue capable of handling 7000, you might end up with a few organisational problems.
It is been very hard, trying to follow the Summit on the news, actually to discern the process by which any agreement is likely to be made.
But for all the activity of the tens of thousands, the final denouement will be down to the Prime Ministers and Presidents now on their way. I hope they can all get in. And I hope they can reach a meaningful agreement.
Reading it from afar, it doesn’t feel great. But perhaps a combination of the seriousness of the issues, the urgency of the leaders and the pressure from those queueing outside in the cold, will yet surprise us all.
Just how hard it will be though was symbolised by something else I noticed in the FT. According to an official Chinese local government website, the air quality in Beijing yesterday was ‘excellent.’ According to the US Embassy, which does its own monitoring, it was ‘unhealthy.’ If they can’t agree on monitoring standards for air quality, I fear even bigger disagreements between now and Friday’s deadline.