West Ham and the Olympic Stadium – the heat is turned up

As many of you will be aware, the Trust has a major project underway to seek a review of the terms of West Ham’s rental agreement for the Olympic Stadium. We won’t repeat the detail of our position, which was set out in our article here on 24 April. But, since we’ve seen a welcome increase in media coverage in the last couple of weeks, we thought you might like a round up of this coverage, and other interesting facts which we have unearthed recently; and an idea of what to expect from us in the weeks ahead.

Last week in the Guardian, their reporter Owen Gibson – with whom we are in close contact – reported that the total cost of the Stadium has risen to £701m, of which £272m is now the bill just for converting it for West Ham’s use.

Then the BBC’s Dan Roan chipped in with a useful summary of the sorry story so far, followed by coverage of Barry Hearn’s comments that the details of the deal should be made public.

We of course agree with Hearn’s comments, because we are still fighting to have the full contract released under Freedom of Information law. The Information Commissioner is still in discussion with the London Legacy Development Corporation about our complaint that the LLDC have failed to comply with the law; they had sent us a copy of the contract which is a sea of black ink, a document redacted to within an inch of its life.

Finally today, the issue reached the House of Commons. John Whittingdale’s excuse for not releasing the contract details is wholly inadequate, but the issue was discussed. It was a breakthrough moment for our campaign.

Freedom of Information is our friend

Careful perusal of the contract document, in between the black ink, revealed that West Ham’s rental is an “all-in” deal. Costs which a club like Charlton have to meet are included in the already derisory rental. West Ham do not pay extra for:
- utilities
- costs related to the pitch, both capital and maintenance (a spanking new pitch is being provided for West Ham, free of charge. Compare that to the £1m that Roland Duchatelet had to invest to make our pitch playable)
- operational and admin staff
- match day staff including ticket office, catering and stewarding

Basically, West Ham just print the tickets, turn up, play, and bank the money. And that means a lot of current Upton Park staff will lose their jobs. This all happens because there is another private company involved: E20 Stadium LLP. This company rents the stadium from LLDC, and then sub-lets it to West Ham, and to others who wish to use the stadium. The architect Steve Lawrence, one of our allies, used FOI law to obtain the contract between LLDC and E20 Stadium. But of course, the most important detail, the rent E20 pay, was redacted. Steve Lawrence assumes it is a peppercorn rent, so that E20 can still make money on the derisory rent West Ham pay.

Meanwhile our friends at Orient have concentrated on monitoring and lobbying local politicians. Partly as a result of their efforts, questions were asked of the Mayor’s office at Question Time on 21 May. Although the questions are fairly bland, they revealed an important nugget of information. In an answer to Jenny Jones the Mayor listed the sources of funding for the Stadium transformation. Newham Council’s contribution was given as £45m. That’s a £5m increase on all previously quoted figures. Of course we know that the costs keep increasing and everyone has to chip in to ensure West ham will be comfortable, but £5m is a lot of money for Newham borough, the poorest in the capital. Have its citizens agreed to cough up more, or is the figure a product of Boris’s cavalier approach to trifling details? Well there is a way to find out – via Freedom of Information. We have asked Newham to explain themselves, and you can track their answer here.

We have also asked the LLDC under FOI law to inform us which contracts for the Stadium rebuild still have not been signed; we‘ve done this because “contracts still outstanding” are one of the excuses used by the LLDC not to release the rental contract. It seems odd that a major contract still hasn’t been signed when the Stadium will already be partly in use later this year.

What next?

We expect further developments between now and the beginning of the new season which will result in more media coverage. If the Information Commissioner insists on fuller disclosure of the rental contract, this will be scrutinized by the media. There are other media interested in the issue whom we believe may show their hand soon. The importance of such coverage is that it shows politicians that the issue is not a narrow pre-occupation of fans of one club. It is matter of importance to taxpayers throughout the country, and to clubs in the EU. When politicians realise this, there is a real chance they will decide to do something about it. We saw the first signs in the House of Commons today.

You can help us. Please join us, or renew your membership and encourage friends and family to do so too. You can also very easily write to John Whittingdale and express your concerns as a taxpayer. This website makes it very easy to do.

Enjoy the summer, but keep an eye on our website. There is more to come on this story!