Redecorating Broadcasting House

The National Audit Office (NAO) this week released a report on the BBC’s management of three estate projects. The redevelopment of Broadcasting House performed particularly badly and Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said:

“For future major projects, the BBC needs to make sure that: investment decisions are based on a full assessment of the scope and cost of the project; there are clear baselines so that performance can be measured and project teams held to account; and proposals submitted by management are reliable and subject to effective challenge by the BBC Trust.”

All of these recommendations seem like perfect common sense. But when your project is backed to the hilt by the money of licence fee payers it’s easy to make investment decisions that are not ‘based on the full assessment of the scope and cost of the project’. And it costs money, of course: Already £55 million over budget, delays meant that the Broadcasting House project saw another £52 million added to make a sizeable bill of £1.05 billion. This kind of overrun is inevitable if, as the NAO say:

“...the BBC did not set out a clear assessment of the intended benefits for the projects at the outset, meaning it is not well placed to demonstrate value for money.”

There was a distinct lack of direction and leadership too:

 “The BBC’s approach to staffing projects would be strengthened if from the outset of projects it adopted a more strategic approach, based on analysis of the skills needed at the different stages of the project lifecycle (such as design, build and operation). At Pacific Quay some early staffing decisions were made on the basis of who was available rather than who was best for the role, which may have contributed to a finding in the BBC’s post project review that “it was sometimes difficult to engage senior staff in decision making about their area as some seemed to either not fully understand their responsibilities or take them seriously enough”.”

Unfortunately this comes as no real surprise. Public sector capital projects are awash with delays, overruns and abject planning. We have examined this in detail in two reports: Beyond the Dome and more recently Out of Control. Project overruns have cost every household in the UK £750 so it’s vital that projects that rely on taxpayers’ money are run competently and efficiently. Some of the errors that litter the reports of the NAO and the Public Accounts Committee seem so basic that they are infuriating. But then again, it’s easy to be careless with other people’s money.

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