Matthew Taylor: start with the big lie

When David Cameron and Boris Johnson boasted that the Olympic venues had been delivered on time and \”on budget\”, international observers may have seen it as confirmation that the UK is good at big projects.

Umm, no, actually, we\’re not.

The budget for the 2012 London Olympics has risen to £9.35bn, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell has told MPs.

The revised budget is nearly four times the £2.4bn estimate when London\’s bid succeeded less than two years ago.

Stating that something which is, at minimum, three times over budget is on time and \”on budget\” is known as a \”big lie\”.

But it\’s a necessary lie for Matthew Taylor, of the RSA, to use to promote his fascist technocracy.

Yes, strong words but bear with me.

As well as the successful Olympic preparation, this year has seen a hitch-free royal wedding and major global sporting competitions at Wimbledon, Silverstone and Royal St George\’s running as smoothly and profitably as usual.

You\’ll note that only one of those had any government involvement at all: and we\’ve had a thousand years of practice at Royal Weddings so even our State might be able to get those right.

It\’s not just events (which by their nature have to be delivered on time). The Channel Tunnel rail link, the renovation of St Pancras and the Jubilee Line extension show how we can get big projects right.

But we didn\’t get them right. At least two of those were hopelessly over budget, late, and with the rail link, arguably entirely unnecessary in the first place. A pissing contest of national vanity rather than economically sound infrstructure.

Why then can\’t we summon up the mixture of political leadership and public support needed to modernise and maintain our basic infrastructure? We are building houses at about a third of the rate needed, our transport system is outdated, our sewers are crumbling, our waste management is poor and question marks hang over our ability to develop an energy infrastructure which can deliver both sustainability and security of supply.

Me, personally, I\’d blame the fuckwits in politics. Get them out the way and I see few problems.

The consequences of our historical predisposition only to trust the state at times of national emergency (even then grudgingly)

Yes, that freedom and liberty thing. Such a pain in the bum for those who would tell us all what to do isn\’t it?

In line with a neo-liberal ideology which equated the private sector and markets with efficiency and virtue and the state and politicians with ineptitude, the notion that \”the customer is always right\” was translated into the focus group techniques of market research.

No, that\’s not \”neo-liberal ideology\”, that\’s empirical research. Only one publicly funded infrastructure or engineering project has come in under time and under budget since WWII. That was Polaris. Because we bought it off the shelf from the Americans.

Every single other project that we\’ve allowed the politicians to foist onto our wallets has been over time, over budget and an economic disaster of the first order.

But the voter isn\’t always right.

Which is where the fascist technocracy comes in. Shut up and do what I tell you, peons, I know better than you do.

Genuinely good governance moves us beyond our innate human tendencies to self-interest and short-termism to identify a coherent idea of enlightened public interest.

Again, shut up about what you want and do what bien pensants like me tell you you ought to.

But as America divides over a budget deficit built up despite a failure to invest in infrastructure, it is far from clear that a gridlocked democracy is better suited to tomorrow\’s challenges than a technocratic autocracy.

Guess who gets to be the technocratic autocrat? Ain\’t you or me, is it? No, no, someone already prominent in public life, one who has already shown that they have the public interest at heart. You know, perhaps someone running the RSA?

The Olympics show the public can get behind a major national project and that we have the management, engineering and construction skills we need.

At four times over budget, yes. And you\’d really be rather surprised at the percentage of the population who aren\’t all that keen on blowing £10 billion on an outdoor drug fest.

Look, could we please just get this right once and for all. Government is not about leading us anywhere, not about creating national projects, not about foisting upon the citizenry the brainfarts of London based think tankers.

It\’s about working out who picks up the rubbish. Who does the collectively necessary scut work of society. And that\’s it, no more.

So, once you\’ve done that please bugger off and leave us alone.

7 thoughts on “Matthew Taylor: start with the big lie”

  1. This is exactly why we must fight the agents of the state against the continuous expansion into our daily lives.

    The alternative is simply to “be a good nazi” and we all saw where that led to the last time it was tried.

    As Perry de Havilland over at Samizdata often says “The state is not your friend”.

    Time to add Matthew Taylor’s name to the FUATWWTRC list.

    *First up against the wall when the revolution comes

  2. Having spent my whole working life involved with capital projects, I can assure you that on time means mostly finished within 3 generations of the project start date and on budget means less than all the money in the world was consumed to complete it.

    On-time and on-budget are just a mantra that has to be repeated during the process like a religious cantation.

    The only time this is the case is when the project is acknowledged as a turkey and everyone will distance themselves from it as rapidly as possible, perhaps only pausing enough to chant the failed project cantation; “Lessons must be learned. “

  3. Many think Pi is a something to do with circles, its not. Its the number you use to multiply initial Government cost estimates to give you an idea what the final cost will be. I see this one is slightly more, but close enough.

    On a more serious point, having been involved in the design and implementation of a number of telecoms infrastructure projects I always warned the investors that there are 3 elements to the build: time, cost and quality. They could pick any two and I controlled the third.
    In the case of the Olympics time and quality were fixed from the start so it was obvious cost was always going to go up.

  4. Ex.Mayor Livingston admitted during the Mayoral debates that he deliberately gave a false low construction cost that Londoners would be required to finance for ‘the greater good’.

  5. and we’ve had a thousand years of practice at Royal Weddings so even our State might be able to get those right.

    All organised by the army, one of the few branches of government which can organise stuff.

  6. GBP2.5bn is complete crap, Christ knows where the Telegraph got that from.

    At the time of the bid, the estimate was GBP4bn. The main reasons for the rise were the original costing team failing to account for VAT (GBP800m), and failing to follow recognised contingency rules (GBP2.7bn) – if they’d included those two, the estimate would have been GBP7bn. FullFact has more.

    In other words, the initial bid team either fucked up or were misleading in their declared cost estimates. But in terms of project delivery (rather than ‘initial false advertising’) it’s only about 25% above the real original budget, and delivered apparently on time and to quality. Anyone who says the overrun is 4x, or even 2x, is simply lying.

    That kind of delivery record would be considered an epic success in the private sector, never mind the state sector.

  7. @ John I doubt that a 25% overun would be acceptable in the private sector- even in the context of my forthcoming boiler replacement. But an under estimate to the tune of 75% would definately not make the buyer smile. Put more simply, if my plumber’s bill comes in at £600 pounds over budget I will be pissed. If the bill comes in as £4000 over budget, errors in the original calculation will not excuse.

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