Sat, Jan 10, 2009 - Page 18 News List

Olympics workforce to be doubled in the next 12 months


The construction workforce for the 2012 Olympics is to double to 6,000 in the next 12 months in a move that ministers hope will offset widespread redundancies in the UK building industry caused by the economic downturn.

The acceleration in work on the east London site comes with the start of buildings, including the velodrome, media center and a 10,000-seat handball arena. Work on the roofs of the main stadium and aquatics center, the two centerpiece venues, will also start this year and mature trees will be planted in the Olympic park.

But the increase in manpower comes amid fears of insolvencies among contractors that could still knock “the big build” off course, despite some work being ahead of schedule.

David Higgins, the chief executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority, warned that bankruptcies were “an obvious risk” to the program.

“Where you get caught is if you have a big exposure to one or two organizations that get themselves seriously into trouble,” he said.

The authority has contracted more that 800 firms to carry out £3.5 billion (US$5.3 billion) of work and has reduced its payment times in an attempt to stave off potential financial problems among the companies. Olympic officials believe main contractors on the principal facilities, such as the 80,000-seat stadium and aquatics center, are well-financed, but insolvency among smaller firms working on the Games is a concern.

“The Olympic park is already Europe’s biggest construction project and this year will see a huge acceleration in activity, with all major construction projects under way,” Higgins said.

In the busiest phase, next year, there will be 9,000 workers. This year the most obvious progress on a project that is twice the size of London Heathrow airport’s Terminal 5, delivered in half the time, will be the erection of the roof structure on the main stadium, which will be visible from central London. That project is currently three months ahead of schedule, but others appear less secure.

Funding from banks and private developers has yet to be agreed on the athletes’ village and a £95 million bailout from the government to keep foundation works going will run out in March. A deal with the Australian developer Lend Lease is expected to be announced by then, but Olympic organizers believe there will have to be more taxpayers’ money invested in the £900 million project.

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