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Calls for Scottish Parliament inquiry into Dundee V&A costs fiasco

An MSP has demanded a Scottish Parliament inquiry into the ballooning costs on Kengo Kuma’s proposed V&A museum in Dundee after it emerged the Scottish government knew of the budget problems nearly a year ago

Labour’s Claire Baker called for the probe into the troubled £80.1 million project, which is now three years behind schedule and £31 million over budget, following a written response from culture secretary Fiona Hyslop.

According to Hyslop, Dundee City Council had admitted to the Scottish government that the competition-winning waterfront scheme by the Japanese star was going to bust the budget last April (2014). However a public statement about the spiralling costs was not released until last month (AJ 16.01.15). 

Hyslop told Baker: ‘Dundee City Council kept the Scottish Government informed, within the bounds of commercial confidentiality, of the contract negotiations. As part of this, in April 2014, the council informed the Scottish Government the initial estimate price would not be met and there was a potential impact on the site mobilisation planned for August 2014.’

A Scottish Government spokesperson subsequently added: ‘Disclosure of this information at that stage would have prejudiced substantially the commercial interests of Dundee City Council as the contracting authority.’

An angry Baker replied: ‘There are still many unanswered questions… and it is important we get the openness and transparency that is essential with the use of public funds. 

‘It was clear from the beginning that this was a project that was heading towards increased costs and delays.

‘The Scottish government have still to fully explain their role in the whole process and that is why I’ll be continuing my calls for a Scottish Parliament inquiry.’ 

She added that the architects who missed out on the original contest - including New York practice REX who recently hit out at the winning scheme, complaining it could ‘never be built within the assigned competition budget’ - had every right to feel aggrieved.

Baker said: ‘The winning design has already been scaled back and other entrants will be justified in asking why one design was seemingly able to go out with the parameters of the design specification. It now seems that those that worked within the specifications were seemingly disadvantaged.’

Last month the city council announced it had begun its own investigations into the issues led by John McClelland, chairman of the Skills Development Scotland.

A preliminary council probe blamed the cost overruns on the building’s complex structure - particularly the ‘unusual extent’ of temporary works to build external walls - along with construction inflation and low market interest among contractors.

The authority also authorised officers to proceed with a financial bail-out package for the scheme, with the council pledging an extra £6.5 million of funding towards the project. The Scottish government said it will raise its share of funding from £15 million to £25 million, while the V&A Museum announced it had been awarded an additional £4.5 million by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) at a meeting of its UK board. This funding is on top of the orginal grant of £9.4 million - £8 million for capital - awarded in January 2014.

Earlier this month, New York practice REX, which lost out during the design contest for the building, told the AJ that it was obvious that winning scheme could ‘never be built within the assigned competition budget’ (AJ 22.01.14).

A spokesman for Dundee City Council said: ‘A thorough and rigorous review of the background to the situation by independent procurement expert John McClelland has been commissioned on behalf of the council so that lessons may be learned for future projects.

‘The results of this review will be brought to the council’s policy and resources as soon as practically possible.’

Postscript:

The Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael has said ‘head should roll’ over the rocketing costs.

Speaking to local newspaper The Courier he said ‘If the Scottish Government were told in April last year of the scale and the nature of the problems that project was having and they didn’t put that into the public domain, then really heads should be rolling.

‘If I were in [First Minister of Scotland] Nicola Sturgeon’s position, I would want to know why that was the case because that’s the sort of game playing which really does damage public confidence.’

 

Readers' comments (3)

  • Here we go again! More time wasting by politicians in an election year. Dundee City Council have already announced an independent enquiry, so why should more public money be expended on yet another with hunt? At the end of the day, the result is likely to be, " We'll learn lessons from this (the outcome). In fact, lessons rarely are learned, particularly by politicians. It would appear that the public domain in Scotland is beset by cost over-runs on large projects; e.g The Scottish Parliament Building, Edinburgh tram system etc. It truly brings our commitment to fiscal control into focus/criticism. All the more reason why this should not be a political football.

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  • The prime reasons for establishing the RIBA and RIAS were to ensure reasonable design quality with predictable costs for public buildings. Perhaps they simply started from different criteria in Japan ? (and Spain ?)

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  • Not all Scottish Public sector projects should be tarred with the same brush - for example the new Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary (being procured by Scotland's innovative NPD procurement route using private finance and currently 6 months into its construction phase) reached financial close in record time and well under the anticipated budget for capital and funding costs with significant programme savings to boot. As for scale and complexity the building exceeds 60,000 sq. m and acute hospitals are about as complex as buildings come. If there is one lesson that needs to be learnt from the V&A and the other Scottish public sector failures is that it is essential that these projects are led by professionals who have a proven track record in design, procurement and delivery and the these persons are given the authority to make the important decisions.

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