Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Six Of The Best For Olympic Bureaucrats

In a desperate bid to extract at least some value from all those tax payments, I’ve taken to attending meetings of the Public Accounts Committee. True, you’ve got to sit on a hard wooden bench, and it’s a cash bar. But the heat’s free, and in these days of thousand quid gas bills, that’s not to be sniffed at. Plus of course, it’s one of the few places where you can still enjoy watching traditional blood sports. I'm sure Gladstone would approve.

Yesterday’s session kicked off with Dame Sue Street DCB, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Culture Media and Sport, and Ms Liz Nicholl MBE, head of UK Sport (for full report see here). They’d been hauled back to explain why they’d apparently told porkies at a previous PAC. Then they’d repeatedly denied the existence of a target for Britain’s Olympic medal haul, whereas we now know such grandiose targets are commonplace in the corridors of "sporting excellence" (see previous blog).

The obvious explanation is that they were saving the public announcement as a “circuses” headline grabber for Gordo, to lighten the otherwise unmitigated gloom of his forthcoming Budget. But clearly they couldn’t admit that. So they’d decided on Appleby Defence Play No 2- Unintended Terminological Inexactitude.

“Targets”, “aspirations”, “aspirational targets”, “targeted aspirations”…goodness, sport is such a linguistic minefield. Dame Sue said the “confusion” was “most regrettable”, and she’d already ordered the compilation of a departmental dictionary (no, honestly) to eliminate any recurrence.

You could tell the PAC members hardly believed a word of it, but after administering six of the best, they allowed both to leave with at least some dignity intact (which naturally raised the question as to why their financially incompetent boss doesn’t make a similarly dignified exit).

Just as a reminder, UK Sport and DCMS want to spend £770m of our money on training a cadre of “super-athletes”, who supposedly would lift us to fourth place in the 2012 Olympics medals table. It would be £13m a medal.

Hopefully, by giving this nonsense exposure now, the PAC has managed to head it off. We’ll see.

PS Yesterday's PAC also featured an appearance by John Oughton, the head of the Office of Government Commerce, and the man responsible for running the Gershon efficiency programme. Very interesting, and I'll be blogging it separately.

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