£6 Million Marble Arch Mound – The Questions which have not been answered by the Council’s ‘internal review’

Westminster Council has released its ‘internal review’ of the £6 Million Marble Arch fiasco which saw costs escalate from £2 million to £6 million in a matter of months and forced the Council to scrap plans to charge for entry to the Mound because of the poor ‘customer experience’ and unfinished nature of the Mound. The review has found

“There was a breakdown of project management of the Mound which, amongst other issues, led to confusion over roles and responsibilities, a lack of communication between staff and contractors working on different elements of the Marble Arch Mound project and a basic lack of project coordination and documentation.”

The Council rejected Labour’s call for a full Independent Inquiry of how and why the costs had increased and why there was a basic lack of financial control.

The subsequent ‘internal review’ has failed to ask key questions about the Council’s failure to apply basic financial controls on this high-profile project. The ‘internal review’, as expected, also fails to ask questions about the involvement of the Leader of the Council and Cabinet Members in making decisions regarding the cost increases.

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Labour City Management spokesperson said:

“The £6 Million Marble Arch Mound fiasco has shown that Westminster Conservatives can no longer be trusted with public money. The basic lack of financial control on this major project is a stark warning to residents that the Conservatives have failed to manage public money properly. It is costing Council Tax payers around £150,000 a month to keep the Mound open, when this money could be better spent on services for young people and the elderly.”

“The only way in which this appalling catalogue of mistakes can be avoided in the future is for the voters to reject the Conservatives at next May’s Council elections and elect a Labour Council committed to high standards of financial control and high-quality public services.”

The ‘internal review’ will be considered at a Scrutiny Committee meeting on 27th October when Labour Councillors will be asking many questions, including those set out below.

The findings of the ‘internal review’

“There are three key reasons why the Mound opened too early and has run significantly over budget. These can broadly be summarised as:
a) a failure of project management on the Marble Arch Mound project which meant risks were not effectively captured or escalated;
b) project finances were mismanaged and misrepresented by the senior officers responsible for the Marble Arch Mound project; and
c) a lack of effective governance, grip and oversight on the Marble Arch Mound project.”

Click to access Westminster%20City%20Council%20Internal%20Review%20Report%20Part%201.pdf

Timeline

The Cabinet Member Report (CMR) in May 2021 reported that the total build costs for the Mound would be £2.520m. This was made up of £1.998m of construction costs and £0.522m of estimated capital costs. The confidential appendix to
the May 2021 CMR also referred to operator costs, which were estimated to range from £0.740m to £0.920m. Therefore,
the total projected cost for the build and operation of the Mound at this time was estimated to be in the region of £3.3m.

Cabinet Member Report, 4 May 2021, Marble Arch Mound – Update on Design, commission and construction of the showcase event (May 2021)

The Mound opened on 26 July 2021 for paid ticketholders and consisted of the hill structure with a viewing platform as the exhibition was not ready. It quickly became apparent that further work would be required to improve the customer experience and that the attraction did not meet the Council’s or visitors’ expectations.

Who took the decision to open the Mound when it was not yet ready?

Were Cabinet Members consulted on this? Did they approve the opening date in the knowledge that the Mound

was not ready?

Why did the Council leadership – who had all visited the mound and made videos about how wonderful it was – agree to the opening of the Mound when it was clearly not ready?

Why were the concerns of stakeholders (BIDs, NWEC, potential sponsors) ignored? Were these stakeholders interviewed by the ‘Internal Review’ officers? If not, why not?

Four days before the opening, Conservative councillors were invited to view the Mound, followed by a meeting and drinks reception. Did any of the Conservative councillors raise any concerns that the Mound was not ready to open?

Tickets were taken off sale for two weeks, visitors refunded and offered to return for free. The Chief Executive announced the Mound would be free to climb in August, a decision subsequently extended for the Mound’s duration.

On 13 August 2021 the Leader of the Council announced that the total cost of delivering the Mound had risen from the sum

envisaged of £3.3m to the current total of £6m.

This was followed by the resignation of Councillor Melvyn Caplan, Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for

City Management.

The Chief Executive said:

“The Council recognises that the project was not adequately scoped as a visitor attraction or a construction project at the
outset. This subsequently led to a poor initial customer experience and an increase in costs, both of which are
unacceptable”

What went wrong and the questions that are not answered

According to CMR of 19th October, “Since May 2021 there have been a number of changes to the scope and design of the project, and this led to variations in the build and operation of the visitor attraction thereby impacting on the forecast cost.”

Were these changes approved? If so, by whom? If they were not approved, why not? Were Cabinet members
informed of the ‘changes to the scope and design of the project and their costs? Did Cabinet members approve the
changes and cost increases?

“Furthermore, the full decommissioning of the site was not provided for in the original forecast.”

Why were full decommissioning costs not included in the original forecast? Whose responsibility was this? Why
did Cabinet Members not ask for these costs to be provided?

“Taken together, these factors have led to an increase in the estimated cost of the project, with the latest forecast summarised in the table below:
Items
Latest
Forecast
£000
Build Costs (including decommissioning)
4,500
Operator Costs
983
Other costs (Customer Experience, Comms & other)
517
Total
6,000

Forecast costs have now increased to £6m and the main reasons for this are outlined below:

Why were costs removed from the budget before the CMR report and then added to other budget headings? Was this the result of political pressure?

Build Costs – increase of £1.980m

“Following the approval of the design, a number of changes were required during the construction of the Mound, particularly in relation to the extent and complexity of the scaffolding and sedum roof structure. As a consequence, the contract sum has increased to £4.5m.”

The build costs doubled in a matter of months. When did it become apparent that the extent and complexity of the scaffolding and sedum roof structure would need to be increased? Were Cabinet Members informed of this and the cost implications? Why were these changes and cost increases not reported immediately to Members and Senior officers?

“Whilst the original scope included an allowance for scaffold removal, it did not sufficiently reflect the scale or complexity of
the decommissioning of the current structure, or an allowance for removing the sedum roof covering.”

Why did the scaffold removal costs not reflect the scale or complexity of the decommissioning and removal of
sedum roof covering? Whose responsibility was this?

Operator Costs – increase of £0.190m

“The confidential appendix to the May 2021 CMR had included indicative figures for the operator which ranged from £0.740m to £0.920m as the procurement process was not completed at that time. The winning tender was £0.793m but costs for the operator have now increased to £0.983m.

The additional increase is due to necessary out-of-scope items not being included within the initial specification of the
operator contract, for example welfare units and customer toilets, and additional security costs.”

Why were the ‘out-of-scope’ items not included in the initial specification?
Were Cabinet members informed that these had been omitted and would increase costs?
Did Cabinet Members approve the increased costs?

Other Costs – increase of £0.517m

Additional costs have been incurred in relation to the Mound as a visitor attraction. These costs primarily relate to branding and signage of the site, setting up of the internal space for the light exhibition, consultant fees, and utility services, which were not included in the original projections. These are essential to the operation of the Mound and benefit the customer experience. These costs also include a limited amount of contingency.

Why were branding, signage and other costs not included in the original costs? Were Cabinet members informed of the increased costs and did they approve them?

Financial control

The ‘internal report claims, ‘The Review has found no evidence to suggest that the problems associated with the Mound have occurred or are occurring elsewhere in the Council.’

So why did the Council cancel the proposed Oxford Circus Piazzas at the 11th hour? And why have Council officers still not produced the costs of the amount spent on the axed Piazzas over three months after Labour Councillors requested the information?

Income

“It was anticipated in the May 2021 CMR that an estimated £1.5m would be generated through ticket sales over the full six months it would be open. After the negative reactions on opening in July 2021 it was decided that customers should be offered a refund. A further decision was taken in August to continue to offer free entry to the Mound recognising that there would be a negative impact on demand of reintroducing charges”

“The May 2021 CMR also assumed the Council would receive £0.450m in sponsorship. The sponsorship agreements are in their final stage of development following close working with the sponsors to update the original agreements to fully reflect the offer of the Mound. Sponsorship funding received will be used to offset the overall cost of the project. The Council is expecting to receive £0.160m in sponsorship.”

There is still no information on who is sponsoring the Mound. What sponsorship arrangements have been made and with whom?

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