VANOC bosses tackle ski-jump fight, labour woes

By Patrick Brethour and Stanley Tromp, Globe and Mail, 17 Jan. 2008

Audit suggests provincial worker shortage could create problems for organization



British Columbia's growing labour shortage poses a "significant" risk to the 2010 Olympic Games, says an audit commissioned by the provincial government and obtained by The Globe and Mail.

The audit, completed by May, 2007, said the committee faces difficulties in recruiting or retaining 40 highly qualified workers, a large proportion of its total staff of 370.

Those difficulties persist, said Donna Wilson, the executive vice-president of work force and sustainability at the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. "The market is still tight," she said, adding that the committee has reduced employee turnover since the time of the audit.

The employees in highest demand work in information technology, human resources and financial services, she said.

The organizing committee is spending $33-million on raises and bonuses through to the end of the Games in a bid to retain staff - inducements that rise with salary, seniority and length of service.

The audit noted other human resources issues, including the need to strike agreements to obtain temporary and volunteer staff, security-clearance procedures, and work visas and accreditation. Despite those concerns, the auditors concluded that the committee's planning process was essentially sound.

The 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Secretariat (a branch of the B.C. Economic Development ministry) had asked the B.C. Comptroller General for the narrowly focused audit; the terms of reference did not permit the auditors to assess the overall Olympic plan, or make recommendations to government as to whether it should be accepted. The Globe obtained an edited version of the confidential report through an access to information request.

The audit questioned several budgetary practices of the organizing committee, but concluded that "with almost three years to go before the 2010 Winter Games it is not unusual for VANOC to have uncertainties in developing its revenue and expense estimates."

Among the concerns noted were:

* some revenue estimates were based on un-negotiated or partly negotiated contracts,

* VANOC's $100-million contingency fund was not directly linked to its assessment of the fiscal risks it faces, and some of those risks could have a material impact on the committee's bottom line. The next six lines detailing those risks were edited from the copy provided to the Globe,

* the lack of a "comprehensive strategy" to deal with budget deficits that might arise, other than ongoing monitoring of spending and risk.

VANOC's business plan calls for the 2010 Games to break even.

Asked if a deficit plan is still an issue today, VANOC chief financial officer John McLaughlin said the committee can't come up with an effective plan ahead of time, since circumstances can change so quickly. "It is and isn't an issue," he said of the auditors' critique. "As soon as we see things are getting out of balance, then we take remedial action before we get into a position of forecasting a deficit."

Mr. McLaughlin said the committee is continuing to revise its estimates of expenses, but noted that VANOC's approach to contingency funding was examined and approved by experts from the International Olympic Committee and the chief financial officer of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games.

He said he viewed the auditor's report as positive. "It's the equivalent of an auditor jumping up and giving you a high five."