Tuesday, 21 Sep 2021

What a waste of YOUR cash! House of Commons writes off £70m spent on temporary new home

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In an annual report, the Commons revealed that it had written off £70.2 million of work on constructing a temporary chamber as a “constructive loss”. The write-off came amid “increased uncertainty” about restoration plans for the exiting chamber.

Peers, MPs and staff complained about sewage leaks, freezing temperatures and a damaged dispatch box while hundreds of repair jobs have gone up to half a year without being resolved.

The Commons annual report said that there was “increased uncertainty over the scope and timing of the longer-term plans” for the project.

It said: “We could no longer be sure that the work undertaken so far has an economic value, so for accounting purposes we have written it off.

“A constructive loss of £70.2 million has therefore been recognised in the account.”

Other repairs overdue include a request to “modify two cheese trolleys from Members Dining Room”, as well a complaint that the wheel of a House of Lords ice cream machine had fallen off.

As of April 7, there were 295 “reactive” jobs overdue, with the oldest remaining unaddressed for six months.

These included 11 overdue faults with annunciators and division bells, 34 fire safety repairs overdue, and five lift faults that had not yet been fixed.

A report by the National Audit Office said last year that it cost £2 million a week just to keep the buildings running.

A Commons spokeswoman told The Times the house service “has been and continues to maintain and preserve the Palace of Westminster and our other grade I and II listed buildings on an ongoing basis”.

They added: “To ensure we provide a safe working environment for all those working in parliament, this work has included other critical projects including fire safety upgrades.

“The commission agreed in September 2020 that Richmond House would be used as accommodation for members, and to create better welfare facilities for house staff, in order to ensure the decant of Norman Shaw North could proceed as planned.

“Work to reconfigure parts of Richmond House has started, with moves expected during summer recess 2021.

“Beyond this, further works on Richmond House are currently paused until there is more certainty regarding the R&R delivery strategy.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the House of Commons, previously rebuffed suggestions MPs should vacate the Houses of Parliament to allow work to take place as “fanciful”.

In 2018 MPs backed a “full decant” proposal, at an estimated cost of £4 billion, which would entail them moving out of the Palace of Westminster and into Richmond House on Whitehall for about six years.

A final review, published in March, concluded that the “full decant” should go ahead and that any other option would result in “decades of large-scale disruption and the significant risks that would come with working on a large, noisy and complex construction site”.

Work had already begun on converting Richmond House into a temporary home with a replica chamber, office space, select committee rooms and a press area all in the works.

Mr Rees-Mogg said a vote would be put to MPs in early 2023 on alternative proposals for the palace refurbishment, scheduled to begin in the middle of the decade.

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