The Public watch: No.2

As the Express & Star reports the findings of KPMG auditors who urge Sandwell Council to consider mothballing, decommissioning or even demolishing the site if it gets too costly, we must ask the obvious question – is this the beginning of the end for The Public nightmare?


(Oh, and as if that prospect wasn’t bad enough, the cost of the project has risen by yet another £5m).


So this disastrous venture has now hit £49m over budget (according to a reliable source, that’s the equivalent of around 6 brand new primary schools) and KPMG are warning Sandwell Council that the £1.1m set aside to run the building for the next three years just isn’t enough. The report will go before the council’s audit commission next Tuesday and today’s newspaper cites some disturbing passages, including where the local authority are told that it’s vital to “consider alternative uses and their operational and financial impact, and this should include the consequences of mothballing the building if it becomes too costly”.


And hold onto your hats, it gets worse as they’re further warn that, “if not alternative use is viable for this building (it should) consider the costs of decommissioning and demolishing the building”.The public pic


Even Sandwell Council’s blindly faithful regeneration chief Bob Badham seems a little rattled: “In all projects you have to bear in mind what would happen if it didn’t work. Decommissioning and demolition has been something we have had to consider in the past. It has been rejected on business grounds. It is not a cost-free option by any means”.


Oh it’s been considered in the past has it? First we’ve heard…


He does sign-off with the familiar “we are confident this project will work”, but how could anyone be ‘confident’ with a financial shortfall, more borrowing and the prospect of demolition rearing its head?


After so long, and so much money, local residents don’t deserve such spin. They deserve some honestly (go on, throw your hands up and admit what a catastrophe this monolith has been!), a frank apology and some accountability from all those involved. It’s quite astonishing that after all this time and so many errors Sylvia King’s head has been the only one to roll.


We won’t see this building demolished, we can be confident of that much. The public bodies involved have proven (£49m later) that they’re far too proud and pigheaded to admit defeat and will dip further and further into a pretty empty public purse to keep it going. We can also be confident that this is going to cost us all even more money – if KPMG say £1.1m per year isn’t enough, then the chances are it isn’t enough, will we see the total bill reach £80m over the next couple of years? It seems likely given this project’s track record. But one thing we absolutely cannot be confident of is that this project will work – The Public gallery that is, and it all rests on a dynamic, innovative and therefore unprecedented review of this building and some realistic goals with regards to what it can be used for, if it can be sold off and how taxpayers can be relieved of this long-running burden.


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