The story in itself is easily summarised: a lease for 15 years (up until 2029 with no break clause), costing approximately £6m per year, has been taken out on a new office block on Victoria Street, less than half a mile from the Palace of Westminster, while renovations take place at the Palace of Westminster. The plan had been that the new office would accommodate parliamentary staff currently housed in Millbank, and MPs would move to the former parliamentary staff offices at Millbank. Yet, a year later the offices remain empty and costs of £4m are being incurred for rates and services, allegedly because of fears MPs travelling from Millbank to vote in the House of Commons could be vulnerable to attack.
(There is no mention of what the decanting costs associated with the musical chairs would have been or why the MPs couldn't move to the new Victoria Street office as opposed to Millbank!)
Now part of the solution appears to be that Department of Health staff move to the new offices, presumably so that the MPs can move to the DoH current HQ. I assume there has been some risk assessment that suggests the journey up Whitehall is safer that the the journey along Victoria Street.
I certainly recognise, particularly in the light of the barbaric attacks last Friday in Paris, that there is a risk to MPs safety, but is it not true that MPs always have to travel to and from the Palace of Westminster, and also that they spend a lot of time in their constituencies 'out and about', so why is this particular journey so risky and ultimately costly?
There are some interesting questions which procurement could answer, for example:
- Why was the contract signed and long before the MPs had agreed to move?
- Why is there no 'break clause'?
- What was the business justification for securing the new office accommodation so early?
- Was there a risk assessment which recognised and mitigated against MPs reluctance to move to Millbank?
- Is the contract for the Palace of Westminster renovations already signed and does that contract anticipate a completion date of 2029, allowing for the further decant of MPs back from their temporary locations?
- Is it reasonable to assume that a completion date of 2029 represents good practice - it seems a very long contract for renovations?
- What contract management arrangements and contingencies will be put in place for the required complete date?
- Prior to signing the lease, were all the relevant stakeholders consulted, including those responsible for MPs security?
- If effective stakeholder consultation took place, are "the muppets" not those who said the MPs journey from Millbank carried a manageable level of risk?
- Had the Finance Committee, some of whom now find the contract "completely outrageous", had any scrutiny of the proposals before they were committed to?
The whole thing looks like a remarkable mess, yes, but perhaps it serves as a cautionary example of why procurement needs to be involved in this type of decision, and that a full options appraisal is required and risk assessment, prior to signing a contract.