Gloves off as ministers turn on Olympics boss who walked out

· Lemley ‘rewriting history on an epic scale’
· Jowell ignored fears over costs, claims American

Hugh Muir and Michael White
Monday December 4, 2006
The Guardian

Ministers yesterday turned their fire on Jack Lemley, former delivery chief of the 2012 London Olympics, after the American claimed that preparations are in crisis and that his warnings were repeatedly ignored.

The gloves came off after the 71-year-old millionaire accused Tessa Jowell, the culture secretary, and Ken Livingstone, the London mayor, of failing to respond to concerns about costs and land contamination on the Olympic sites.

Mr Lemley stood down as chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority in October saying he was not prepared to countenance political interference.

But yesterday, as he reignited the controversy with an interview in the Mail On Sunday, it emerged that the veteran constructor jumped as he was about to be pushed.

The Guardian understands that ministers, Olympic officials, their counterparts in Whitehall and Mr Livingstone became concerned about Mr Lemley’s stewardship of the ODA.

As a result it is likely that he would have been sacked at his meeting with Ms Jowell in October if he had not agreed to resign and take what became a severance package with around £400,000 gross - including the tax due on a payoff that gave him £150,000 net, double the three months pay of £75,000 he was legally entitled to expect.

The ODA was already investigating complaints involving potential conflicts of interest and claims that Mr Lemley may have committed the ODA to spending money outside his authority. There were concerns about various issues, from the serious to comparatively trivial, such as the ordering of 40 electronic yellow rabbits from Conran to sit on staffers desks.

“We’ve buttoned our lips on this until now,” one minister said.

A statement from the culture department, sanctioned by Ms Jowell, provided a clear indication that ministers have lost patience with Mr Lemley, who has made his recent comments despite having signed a mutual confidentiality agreement on his departure.

“Mr Lemley is trying to rewrite history on an epic scale. In doing so he makes a number of assertions he must know are untrue. It is categorically untrue that Mr Lemley tried to raise issues and was ignored,” the statement said.

Of his claim to have raised concerns about finance, the department said: "We, not he, initiated a full-scale cost review, working with KPMG.

The ODA’s improved plans for the Olympic park, published earlier this year, made several hundred million pounds in savings. These were plans to which Mr Lemley was happy to put his name at the time."

Mr Lemley was also accused in the statement of debunking procedures that he drew up. “Mr Lemley himself created the Olympic construction ‘2-4-1’ plan - two years of planning and land preparation, four years of building and one year of testing - to which we are working. So it is baffling that he is now criticising the very approach that he devised.”

Claims that he was silenced are also rejected. “It was certainly not the case that Mr Lemley was prevented from speaking at the Olympic board. In fact, as ODA chair the board expected him and the chief executive to provide regular progress reports, and to bring forward key decisions for approval,” the statement said.

In his interview, Mr Lemley, who was made a CBE for his work on the Channel tunnel, said he did not have sight of the Olympic budget until after his appointment but knew on seeing the figures that they were unrealistic. “A blind man could see there was a huge environmental problem. I thought it was highly likely they underestimated. I talked to Tessa Jowell’s senior people … almost on a daily basis about this.”

He added: “At ODA meetings I was very clear. But they just did not want to hear bad news. Tessa did not attend them. I was very surprised.”,,1963353,00.html