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MPs and peers in charge of Parliament's revamp urged to keep lid on costs after Big Ben bill rises by 176%

The plan is for MPs to move out of the Palace of Westminster during the restoration (PA)

3 min read

MPs and peers in charge of a multi-billion pound revamp of Parliament's have been urged to keep a lid on the cost to the taxpayer after the bill for Ben Ben's facelift soared by 176%.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said the group in charge of the project must take a firm grip on the process early on to ensure the bill to the taxpayer does not increase even further..

The current plan is to decant everyone out of the crumbling Palace of Westminster in the mid-2020s, with a temporary Commons chamber set up in nearby Richmond House.

Previous estimates have budgeted the cost at around £4billion, but a report from the NAO said this was likely to be a "median" figure, and the final bill could be as high as £6 billion.

Gareth Davies, who is head of the spending watchdog, said: "The restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster is a highly complex and challenging programme.

"It is vital that, from the outset, the sponsor body and Parliament work together to apply the lessons from other major projects.

"This will allow them to manage the risks to value for money and timely delivery, and maintain public confidence in the programme."

The NAO said the sponsor body in charge of the restoration should look at the "inherent unknowns" in such a project, after the repairs of the tower which houses Big Ben saw costs spiral since it began three years ago.

"The ongoing Elizabeth Tower restoration project highlights the importance of understanding uncertainties as they can significantly affect the cost and schedule estimates," the report states.

"Project costs increased 176% (to £80 million), in part given an over-optimistic view of the project's risks and a lack of knowledge of the tower's condition.”

Labour MP Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “We have known for years that the Palace of Westminster is crumbling, putting everyone who visits or works in it at unacceptable risk. Meanwhile, the building lacks the accessibility and digital connectivity expected in the 21st Century. 

“This NAO report shows why the restoration programme must continue without any further delay. However Parliament must make sure that the programme’s governance arrangements protect the taxpayer from the delays and cost increases that so often plague major projects.”

And Sarah Johnson, CEO of the Houses of Parliament Restoration and Renewal Sponsor Body, said: “The restoration and renewal of the Houses of Parliament will be the biggest and most complex heritage project ever undertaken in the UK, supporting thousands of jobs across the country and protecting one of the world’s most recognisable buildings.

“Since legislation was passed last year, we have made rapid progress setting up the organisations responsible for the programme. 

“I welcome the NAO’s helpful recommendations as we embark on the task of designing and delivering the plan to protect the Houses of Parliament for future generations.”

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