Welcoming the Prime Minister to Newham is becoming a bit of habit. Gordon was here again, this time to mark the halfway point between us winning the bid and the opening ceremony for the Olympic Games. He told me he always enjoyed his visits here, despite my bending his ear. I hope his visits are becoming a habit that he will not want to break. This time he was accompanied by Tessa Jowell, the Olympics Minister, and Andy Burnham the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
It was my first visit to the site for some time and I was genuinely bowled over to see the progress that has been made to the construction of the Olympic stadium. I have been to the top of a tower block overlooking the site, but this was my first view of the beginnings of the stadium up close and personal. I do think it will be a very beautiful building.
According to the Olympic Delivery Authority, the agency responsible for building the buildings, we are right on track. And that’s good to know.
We were given the chance to meet people working on the site and to talk to a number of the new apprentices, both male and female, who are being trained in building skills and heard the good news that 250 new apprenticeship opportunities were announced for work on the Olympic site.
In addition to the apprenticeships, thousands of jobs are currently being created for bricklayers, electricians and scaffolders, as well as admin and support staff. The total number of people expected to be employed on site could peak as high as 11,000 in 2010, with as many as 30,000 people being employed overall. The Prime Minister was keen to stress that employment on this site is not temporary. 50,000 jobs are expected to be permanently created as a result of the facilities that the Olympic site will bring.
Residents often ask me how they can get jobs on the site and I advise they register at “Workplace” in Stratford, where vacancies and training opportunities are advertised and help is available to steer people in the right direction.
Talking to the apprentices, they were very positive about the quality of training they receive and about their future career prospects. When I spoke to other workers on site, they, too, share that optimism and enthusiasm for the years ahead.
But we must not be complacent. The day after the visit by the Prime Minister, I was out in Stratford with Assembly Member John Biggs, Newham Councillors, friends and activists, collecting signatures for a petition to Parliament.
As reported in this Newspaper before Christmas, the credit crunch has had a detrimental effect on the funding for the Olympic Games. Expected sponsorship monies from businesses have been slow to materialise. This has impacted negatively on proposals and savings are having to be made.
In the original plan, a ‘super health surgery' was to be fully built in time for the Games for athletes’ use, then handed over for use by tens of thousands of residents of Newham. We now fear that a temporary health centre will be built for the Games only, and local people will have to wait for some time for the new and needed permanent healthcare facilities in the Olympic Village.