If the Palace of Westminster’s Restoration and Renewal Programme is to successfully deliver a restored and working Palace in the early 2030s, and achieve value for money, the risks associated with complex major infrastructure programmes must be addressed now, according to today’s report by the National Audit Office.
The Programme aims to address major structural and maintenance issues across the Palace alongside meeting wider objectives, such as improving access to the Palace and protecting its heritage. Parliament has set up a new Sponsor Body from April 2020 to deliver the Programme on its behalf. The Sponsor Body’s first task will be to prepare the business case, currently expected by autumn 2021.
Today’s report looks at the Programme at this early stage to identify potential risks and recommend how these may be addressed. For example, clear objectives need to be agreed to manage the risk of the Programme scope later expanding unnecessarily, potentially leading to cost increases and delays. The Sponsor Body should finalise its strategy for engaging with Parliament to ensure Parliament is kept informed. Parliament should also put in place clear structures to help agree, with the Sponsor Body, a clear and shared understanding of what the Programme will deliver.
As the Programme involves the extensive restoration of an old, heritage building, uncertainties, such as the condition of the underlying building and availability of specialist skills, are to be expected at this early stage. The Sponsor Body needs to understand and reduce these uncertainties so that it can then develop evidence-based cost and schedule estimates which it should revisit over time.
The long-term nature of the Programme makes it likely that technology and working practices will change throughout the Programme, increasing the risk that requirements may change, leading to costs increasing. At this early stage, it is unclear how future changes requested by Parliament will be managed, and how the Sponsor Body will reduce the risk of requirements changing. The Sponsor Body and Parliament should agree a process that outlines when Programme requirements will be revisited, and how the time and cost implications of any changes are weighed against potential benefits.
Critically, the Programme is highly dependent on other projects being completed to time. This includes redeveloping part of the Northern Estate, Richmond House, which is where the House of Commons is expected to move during the Palace works. The Sponsor Body expects to take responsibility for this project in summer 2020. Other projects will remain outside the Sponsor Body’s control, including moving staff and archives out of the Palace so that construction work can start. The Sponsor Body is developing a plan for how these projects fit together. The NAO recommends that this plan clarifies responsibilities for each project and how the links between projects will be managed.