Andrea Leadsom and Baroness Evans: Our pledge to deliver a world-class restoration project of Parliament
MPs and peers have delivered a clear message that they expect House authorities to take action to secure the future of the Palace. As Leaders of our Houses, we will help to ensure that a world-class project delivers a Parliament fit for the 21st century, write Andrea Leadsom and Baroness Evans
The Palace of Westminster is a powerful symbol of our nation. This great masterpiece of gothic architecture, like our democracy, has grown and developed over the centuries. And as we celebrate a century since some women were finally given the vote and sixty years since they were allowed to sit in the House of Lords, Parliament has agreed to move ahead with the restoration and renewal of the Palace. This is an exciting new phase in Parliament’s long and rich history, and will ensure that the Palace will continue to serve as the seat of our democracy for centuries to come.
As a decision for Parliament rather than the Government, both Houses agreed that a “full and timely decant’’ would be the best and most cost-effective way of delivering the restoration that is so clearly needed. The scale of that work cannot be underestimated. The reasonably good condition of the palace’s exterior and decor is often remarked upon, but 80% of the building’s mechanical and electrical systems require stripping out and replacing.
Delaying this critical work is not an option, as the longer we take the more costs will escalate and the risk of ire or catastrophic failure of the Palace’s systems will increase. Over the course of two years there have been a dozen fires that have been extinguished by alarms or the mandatory 24-hour patrols - but for the long-term safety of all visitors and staff, we’ve got to improve the condition of the entire building. The work will also provide an opportunity to introduce improvements to the layout of the Palace, including better disabled access and office space. However, before the work can begin, which is expected no earlier than 2025, a significant amount of preparatory work will be required.
To oversee this next phase of work, and similar to the successful delivery of the Olympics, the commissions have agreed that a Sponsor Board and Delivery Authority will be established, initially in shadow form. In consultation with parliamentarians and stakeholders, the Sponsor Board will take responsibility for making the key decisions that are required to ensure the project is delivered to time, as well as ensuring the costs are kept under control, as there can be no blank cheque for the expenditure of billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. Both Houses will be asked to approve the overall scope of the work, including the design and likely costs, later in this Parliament.
The commissions have agreed the shadow Sponsor Board should have about 12 members - five external, including the chair, but with a majority of parliamentarians representing the main parties in both Houses. This strikes the right balance between ensuring cross-party parliamentary support for the works, and the appropriate external professionalism and expertise. It will also be important from the outset that the shadow Sponsor Board should operate along the same lines as a company board, rather than a select committee.
The external members of the Board will be appointed by a process of fair and open competition overseen by an independent recruitment panel. To ensure the robustness of the process, a former First Civil Service Commissioner will chair the panel, and the other members of the panel will be selected with relevant expertise in the heritage sector and the delivery of major projects. We will have oversight of the recruitment process, which will begin on 16 April, on behalf of our respective commissions. We expect to invite the commissions to endorse the final list of parliamentarians and external members by the summer, with the establishment of the shadow Sponsor Board shortly afterwards.
The vote earlier this year delivered a clear message from parliamentarians - that they expect the House authorities to get on with this work for the good of the Palace. For reasons of improving the safety of those who work in the Palace, preserving our heritage, and ensuring increased access, the refurbishment of Parliament will remain a priority for us as Leaders of our Houses. We will help to ensure that a world-class restoration project delivers a Parliament fit for the 21st century.
Andrea Leadsom MP is Leader of the House of Commons and Baroness Evans of Bowes Park is Leader of the House of Lords