Labour run Birmingham City Council’s plans for an Athletes Village for the Commonwealth Games in 2022 have been abandoned with the Government stepping in to ensure that athletes can be accommodated during the £750m event. The Athletes Village, that was due to be built in Perry Barr near to the stadium, has been beset with problems from the outset, including the purchase of a bus depot coming in at 8 times the original budget. It was subject to a revised business case earlier this year that showed a £92m overspend, with that decision controversially pushed through by the Labour Cabinet without the usual democratic oversight afforded to backbench councillors. Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic has added further pressure, doubts over the feasibility of the scheme were already growing well before the virus hit. Given how far of track the project was even before the pandemic, questions will now be asked as to why Labour entered into construction contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds just at the point the country was entering lockdown and why they did so whilst blocking any attempt at scrutiny.
The Athletes Village was a £550m project separate to the Games itself which is being three-quarters funded by the Government at a cost of approximately £750m. Whilst the Games preparations are being overseen by the Organising Committee, the Village was the sole responsibility of the Council to deliver after it promised it would be able to provide it in time for 2022 when signing the Host City contract. It is understood that existing university accommodation will now be used to house athletes instead, a proposal with the Birmingham Conservatives suggested at the time of the original bid in order to keep costs and risk down, especially given the unusually tight timescales to deliver. Crucially, in a sign of the lack of faith in the council to manage such projects, responsibility will now pass to a new delivery board.
Cllr Robert Alden (Con, Erdington) Leader of the Conservative Group on Birmingham City Council said:
“The Athletes Village was the one part of the Games for which the Labour Council was solely responsible and it is little surprise it is the one part of the Games which has gone badly wrong. These problems were building before Covid and even without the pandemic it seemed destined to be yet another major project managed by Labour that failed to run on time and to budget. Whilst we are hugely grateful to the government and the commonwealth games federation for the huge amounts time, energy and resources they are pouring into making the Birmingham Games a success, it is embarrassing that the largest local authority in Europe cannot be trusted to deliver their own commitments for the Games and others are now having to step in.”
The failure of the Council to deliver this major project follows a string of failures by the Labour Executive, including spending the budget for all three phases on just the first phase of the city centre paradise development, with governance failings that also led to control being taken away from the council and passed to the Local Enterprise Partnership. The Council has also been subject to an unprecedented 3 section 24 notices by external audit warning about financial mismanagement, has spent tens of millions on industrial disputes within its waste service, left it too late to re-procure a 25 year contract for waste disposal, and failed to properly manage a contract for its school transport services that led to known sex offenders driving vulnerable children. Since 2016 the Labour Council has failed to deliver 39% of its own savings programme.”
Cllr Ewan Mackey (Con, Sutton Roughley) said:
“We are well used to the Government having to step in to clear up Labour’s mess in Birmingham. The imposition of an Improvement Panel, followed by non-executive advisors, and a children’s commissioner followed by the establishment of an independent children’s trust were desperately needed to address their shocking failures to deliver services and look after public money. It is little wonder that a council that cannot even empty the bins has been unable to deliver this major project, though you have to question why the Leader, Cllr Ian Ward, signed up to it in the first place when other options were available, his cavalier approach to spending other peoples money will impact council tax payers in this city for decades to come. Cllr Ian Ward staked his reputation on him being able to deliver the Games for Birmingham now we know he can't even deliver accommodation when given the money for it by the Government. His reputation is in tatters.”
Cllr Alden added:
“The Commonwealth Games should be a fantastic opportunity for Birmingham and the resources being ploughed into it by Government demonstrate their commitment to our city and region. Sadly once again Birmingham residents are suffering from the total failures of Birmingham Labour and their abject inability to run the Council properly. Even when given the money for the Village they promised, Labour just couldn't deliver.
However, less than 2 years out with the Council failing to deliver it own commitments, it is essential we all pull together to make is a success and showcase the best of Birmingham to the world.”