MPs blast BBC over late and overbudget EastEnders set rebuild

Posted On: 
20th March 2019

MPs have torn into the BBC for the "failures" behind a multimillion pound overspend and near-five year delay in building its new EastEnders studio.

The 'Queen Vic' pub - one of the iconic settings in EastEnders
Credit: 
PA Images

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said the broadcaster had “underestimated the scale and complexity” of the 'E20' programme to replace the hit soap’s external filming set "from the start".

The move, which began in 2013, is set to cost licence fee payers £87m - 45% more than had been budgeted for when it was drawn up – and is due to be nearly five years late when completed in May 2023.

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The committee said overhauling the set, which was due to last just two years from its first broadcast in 1984, was crucial for the show’s ability compete with its rivals when fewer people watch real-time TV.

But they said those behind the project had been “complacent” as they criticised management for going “off-track yet again”, following the initial 26-month delay they were informed of in 2016.

'COMPLACENCY'

PAC chair Meg Hillier said the “fundamental mistakes” in planning and delivering E20 came at “significant extra cost” to licence fee payers.

“The apparent complacency with which the BBC approached the project is entirely at odds with EastEnders’ strategic importance to the Corporation,” she added.

The PAC's report said inflation in the construction industry had resulted in a hike in costs, when the building of the main set began more than a year after it was supposed to in October 2018.

They added that failure to get the right construction project management skills in place from the start had stopped the overhaul being turned out on time.

“It was a serious error at the outset not to consider exactly what skills would be needed to see E20 through. The resulting shortfall in key expertise set the tone for much of what followed,” Ms Hillier added.

“The revised completion date for E20 is still more than four years away and, as work continues, the BBC must demonstrate it now has a firm grip on the project’s costs and progress.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “We welcome the Public Accounts Committee’s recognition of the importance of the E20 project to secure the long-term future of EastEnders, a flagship programme for the BBC, and retain audiences in a changing landscape…

“However, we strongly reject the notion that there has been any complacency in managing this project.

“Like any building work of this scale, there have been challenges along the way including construction market issues beyond our control and working on a brownfield site.

“We have made improvements to the project and continue to keep it under close scrutiny.”