Cambridgeshire County Council report reveals 'time pressures' were to blame for Ely bypass overspend
PUBLISHED: 10:52 31 July 2019
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Time pressures from "key stakeholders" were partly to blame for the Ely bypass overspend, a committee has heard, with one councillor blaming one-party oversight.
A Cambridgeshire County Council's "lessons learned" report on the project shows costs rose by 36 per cent.
The final cost was £48,910,380, with an additional £13m allocated during construction in order to achieve completion.
The report made six recommendations to prevent similar issues from recurring, including that in future the relevant county council committee should be better informed of progress and issues, and that staff pressured to pursue actions "that do not follow normal governance rules" should manage or escalate those concerns.
But despite the cost increase and governance concerns raised the report did find the council was "getting value for money" and there was "effective" scrutiny.
The report summary said: "Internal Audit has concluded that despite the additional payments on the project, there is evidence that throughout the course of the project, there was an effective third party process of review and scrutiny of costs and performance which was undertaken to ensure that the council was getting value for money on the delivery of the scheme.
"However, due to the desire of key stakeholders to get the project completed in the shortest timescales possible, and the consequent design of the contract, insufficient time was given to the project planning stage which, when combined with the type of contract used during construction, meant that the true costs of the project were not available to officers nor members until the project was near completion."
The findings were discussed at the county council's audits and accounts committee yesterday (July 29).
At the beginning of the discussion the deputy head of internal audit, Neil Hunter, made a point of clarifying the language used, saying, "in our opinion there has not been an overspend there has been an under-provision," before referring to the £13m as an "overspend" later on in the meeting.
Liberal Democrat Cllr John Williams said he believed the problems arose from a lack of political diversity on the project board, which was responsible for key areas of oversight reporting to the relevant county council committee. He said all political members were from the Conservative Party.
He said: "It is clear from the report that we were let down by the project board. The project board did not raise these concerns… I feel that one of the problems I have with this is that the project board was a one-party board, there was no opposition councillor on that project board, no one was there to scrutinise or criticise the decisions that were taken.
"In the future, we should have opposition councillors on those project boards."
The committee chair, Liberal Democrat Cllr Mike Shellens, interrupted him and said the audit and accounts committee does not make party-political comments.
He said: "The people on the project board were members and officers and those people did not do the task, and I do not at this stage want to ascribe any political motive to that."
The report will now go to the council's economy and environment committee, which requested the internal audit report.