Hunt: ‘2012 Olympic budget is not protected’

By Steven Downes
The London Olympics “are our No1 priority”, David Cameron, Britain’s new Prime Minister, told Jeremy Hunt as he appointed him as his government’s Secretary of State in the re-named Department of Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport yesterday.

Yet despite the importance invested by the Liberal Conservative government in the 2012 Games, Hunt has also conceded that funding for the London Olympics is not sacrosanct in the forthcoming round of brutal public expenditure cuts, as Cameron seeks to reduce the national debt by £60 billion this year.

Speaking on BBC’s Newsnight, Hunt said that his department is already looking to make immediate cuts in spending of around £60 million. “I have had discussions with civil servants in my department today, one of the first things I did, to find how we can best find those savings without affecting the front-line services for which we are responsible,” Hunt said.

“Olympic money is not protected, none of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s budgets are protected, and we’re looking at all of them and saying, ‘Can we save this money without affecting our core services?'”

Before he was summoned to Downing Street yesterday afternoon, Hunt had never before crossed the threshold of No10. But after a nervy 15-minute wait and a brief meeting in the hallowed Cabinet room with Cameron, Hunt, 43, the Conservative MP for South West Surrey, emerged with ultimate political responsibility for delivering the London’s £9 billion Olympics.

Hunt takes over from Tessa Jowell, Labour’s outgoing Olympics Minister, and Ben Bradshaw, the Culture Secretary. Hunt will take a seat in the policy-forming Cabinet.

After the first day of Britain’s new Liberal Conservative coalition government, not all junior ministerial appointments had been announced. It has been assumed that Hunt’s colleague, Hugh Robertson, who has served as shadow sports spokesman for the past four years, will retain the sports minister’s portfolio in the multi-faceted COMS department that was once disparagingly dubbed “The House of Fun”.

“When David Cameron asked me to do the job just an hour ago, he said to me, ‘Concentrate on those Olympics, they are really, really important’,” Hunt had said earlier in the day, as he made his way down Whitehall to the COMS’ offices at Cockspur Street.

“The 2012 Olympics are the most important thing we will be doing as a department, and I think possibly a seminal moment in this new government after all the doom and gloom we are facing on the economic front.

“David has always felt that the 2012 Olympics are going to be an amazing opportunity for the UK, and really what we want to do is to use the 2012 Olympics to get more young people playing sport. We think it will be a wonderful national occasion, but if we can use it to get more teenagers playing sport, then we will have something that will last a generation.”

Hunt’s appointment sees all key positions in British Olympic sport now occupied by senior Tory party figures: Lord Coe, the chairman of LOCOG, was briefly a Conservative MP for Falmouth; London Mayor Boris Johnson is a former Bullingdon clubmate of Prime Minister Cameron; and BOA chairman Lord Moynihan was minister for sport in Margaret Thatcher’s administration.

In common with the efforts of Britain’s politicians to achieve consensus after no single party won an outright majority in last week’s general election, Hunt was gracious towards the Olympic achievements of his political predecessors. “I think Labour must get some credit for the fact that they won the Olympics with the help of Seb Coe, who was very important.

“So they’ve entrusted us with a very, very precious jewel for the future of the country and we really want to make it work.

“I think that in terms of the construction of the facilities, and the teams that have been put in place to run the Games, it is going very well.

“The two questions that will certainly be taking up some of my time is first of all security, which is obviously going to be a huge challenge, and secondly, how do we create an Olympic legacy in our schools?”

Hunt’s Conservative party manifesto’s sports section advocates a merger of sporting agencies, such as UK Sport, Sport England and the Youth Sport Trust, in an effort to make savings on duplicated office costs and services.

And while Lottery funding to sport might be maintained or even increased, Exchequer funding from the government for the agencies, and therefore national governing bodies, seems certain to be cut.

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