The Palace of Westminster is the home of the two Houses of Parliament. This internationally recognised building is in a state of extreme disrepair. The risk of a catastrophic failure is high and growing with every month that passes: fire, water penetration, sewage inundation, comprehensive electrical failure or some other mechanical breakdown are among the most likely causes. It must be repaired. For a World Heritage site that is the home of the “mother of parliaments”, doing nothing is not an option.
Since this problem was properly acknowledged and confronted there have been two comprehensive examinations of the options for restoration and renewal of the Palace; one by independent consultants and another by a Joint Committee of the two Houses. The Joint Committee recommended the evacuation of the Palace for a period of around six years while it was comprehensively restored as the option which presented the lowest financial and technical risks. The Public Accounts Committee has not attempted to repeat the work represented in these two thorough exercises. But as the House of Commons’ guardian of the public purse, we believed we should satisfy ourselves, on behalf of the House, that the work was thorough and that the lessons that have been learned from our examinations of other major public works have been applied to this extremely complex, high-value major project.
This report should be regarded as a review of the robustness of the options, indicative costings and project management proposals, rather than an effort to repeat the detailed and prolonged work of technical experts and political stakeholders. In this we draw on our experience of examining how public money is spent and how major projects are set up to succeed or fail. We considered: cost, project management, safety and time. We are clear that there needs to be a detailed business plan before any final decision is made.
Our conclusion is clear: the option favoured by the Joint Committee is most likely to be the most economical, effective and efficient choice. The best value for money will be achieved by getting on with it. The Government should not delay any further in putting the proposal for a decision in principle before both Houses. There are many further details to be hammered out and some difficult further choices will have to be made. The Public Accounts Committee, together with the National Audit Office, will continue to work to ensure that the best value for public money is achieved. The Palace of Westminster belongs to every citizen of the UK, and they deserve nothing less.
8 March 2017