Whether it’s crumbling rooftiles, weekly fire alarms being activated or bacteria in the water supplies, the creaking Palace of Westminster is all too often a perfect state-of-the-nation parable. Everyone agrees that the place needs fixing: the question is, should MPs move out to allow restoration projects to happen unencumbered?
It’s currently costing an extra £2 million a week to keep the Houses of Parliament functioning while MPs decide what to do: in 2018 they voted for a ‘full decant’ to leave while works went on but in 2020 that decision was subsequently overturned, meaning that millions spent on new temporary sites has likely gone to waste. Some £70 million for a ‘stand-in’ chamber in Richmond House was written off in September while a further £10.9 million to move peers to the QEII centre was blocked by the government.
The overall ‘Restoration and Renewal’ program has been overseen by a Sponsor Body that has endured a somewhat chequered history since it properly launched in 2020. Having concluded that a ‘full decant’ was the only option, the panel of politicians and building experts were subsequently asked to review their findings. After concluding once again that moving out was the only solution, the House of Commons Commission moved to, er, abolish the Body.
Now Mr S has discovered just how much all these shenanigans has cost the great British taxpayer. For, tucked away in a Commission report last week was a breakdown of the costs of the Body which is soon to be wound up. Between 2020 and 2022 some £24.4 million was spent on it: in 2022/23 a further £7 million is budgeted too. Some of this £31 million covers personnel who will retain jobs under the new system but millions more risks being wasted on an expert body that was abolished because MPs didn’t like what they were being told.
Dr Alexandra Meakin of Leeds University said to Mr S that:
The state of the Palace of Westminster means Restoration and Renewal is likely to cost billions, however it is delivered. But we know already that politicians changing their mind about the refurbishment has led to millions of pounds being written off, in addition to the ever-rising cost of repairs and delays. To ensure that the money spent on the Sponsor Body is not wasted after its abolition, its vital work on public engagement with R&R needs to be a foundation stone for the next phase of the project.
More than £100 million has now been spent and still no restoration has been yet agreed. With politicians procrastinating as the Commons crumbles, will anything change in future? Steerpike isn’t holding out hope…
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