Council blamed for Beacon costs

July 26 2022

 Council blamed for Beacon costs

Independent watchdogs have blamed the city council for the Bristol Beacon refurbishment costs more than doubling.

Number-crunchers Grant Thornton say the local authority “underestimated the complexity and difficulty” of the concert hall’s revamp and that its “failure” to have effective arrangements in place caused the bill to spiral from £52million to £107million.

The auditors’ assessment in their 2020/21 interim annual report, which has just been published, comes weeks after it was revealed the building is valued at zero pounds in Bristol City Council’s accounts and that the authority has already written off £39million on the project.

On-site investigations found the Victorian building’s structure to be a “worst-case scenario” which saw the council’s share of the bill spiral from £10million to £54.5million.

The additional funding was approved by mayor Marvin Rees’s Labour cabinet in March last year with support from cross-party scrutiny councillors amid concerns about simply letting the former Colston Hall “disintegrate” in the city centre.

In its value-for-money report, presented to the authority’s audit committee on June 27, Grant Thornton said: “The council underestimated the complexity and difficulty of the redevelopment of the Bristol Beacon and did not have effective arrangements in place throughout 2020/21.

“The failure to have effective management arrangements in place from the start of the project and to have any cost certainty before entering into the contract has resulted in delays and increased costs.

“The council has strengthened the management and project management arrangements for Bristol Beacon, but these new arrangements are not yet consistently applied across the council.”

Grant Thornton did not identify any “significant weaknesses” in the authority’s value-for-money arrangements in 2020/21 but identified 13 improvement recommendations, including taking steps to avoid a repeat of the Beacon financial calamity.

“The council should learn from the Bristol Beacon project and ensure all capital projects have effective and rigorous project management arrangements in place.”

Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service