A Tynwald committee has said the Department of Infrastructure is attempting to hide the true cost of the promenade regeneration project from taxpayers.

The Environment and Infrastructure Review Committee has delivered its final report into the much maligned scheme.

In its report, the committee, chaired by Claire Barber MHK, identified several issues with the management of the scheme and criticised the ability of the DoI to deliver such a project.

It has been critical of the repeated delays into the scheme, but has accepted that some of the reasons for this, such as Covid lockdowns, fall well outside of the powers of the DoI.

Budget

The report says that during his appearance in front of the committee DoI CEO Nick Black ‘confirmed that the scheme does not have a final budget and that the process of allocating money is ongoing’.

It adds: ‘We are concerned by the lack of clarity over the project budget. The taxpayer has no certainty over how much of their money will ultimately be invested in the Scheme, further damaging public confidence in the department and the government. As highlighted above, we see the splitting of the work into two phases with two separate budgets as an attempt to hide the true overall spend from the taxpayer.’

Businesses

Throughout the scheme, the plight of businesses on the prom has widely reported, with some businesses forced to close and those that have survived regularly criticising a lack of support from gov. 

During its evidence sessions, the committee heard how not only had the fencing and diversions detracted from business, but mistakes made, such as the ones which led to the walls at the cultural quarter (outside the Sefton Hotel and Gaiety Theatre) having to be demolished and rebuilt.

The committee also rejects the idea that the work to fix mistakes doesn’t cost the taxpayer any further money. It said: ‘While there may not be a direct cost in the form of payment for the work, there is a wider cost to businesses who lose out on revenue, the government due to lost VAT receipts, and a wider societal loss from bankruptcy and closure of businesses providing essential services.’

And added: ‘Businesses face the very real risk of closure due to the ongoing project, which has only been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important that the department makes use of all resources available to get the project finished as soon as possible. This will minimise the losses faced by businesses and ensure that they are able to survive for the benefit of the whole Island.

‘We would like to note here the value that the Business Liaison Officer role has brought to the project. The officer has been appointed as the designated point of contact between businesses and the department, and has been of huge benefit in improving communications between the two parties. In future projects, however, we would like to see the role (or any similar version of it) replaced by better strategic oversight and project management within the department which would ensure that businesses are included in the project’s design and implementation from the beginning.’

Strategic Capacity

Another key issue the committee has hit on is the DoI’s ‘ability to manage large projects of national importance’. The committee said it is encouraged that Beamans Management Consultants have been engaged to conduct a review of the DoI, its governance and ability to manage capital projects with a value below £3m and that its members have all been able to contribute to that review.

It added: ‘We welcome this development. The strategic issues which we have come across will be highlighted by Beamans’ report. We would not wish to overlap or undermine this piece of work with our Report and so will not expand on the matter further here.

We further welcome the creation of a central projects unit in the Cabinet Office that will take ownership of projects over £3 million in the future. This new arrangement should help to ensure that the failures of the Promenade Scheme are not repeated in the future.’

Horse Trams

One of the most contentious issues around the prom scheme has been the replacing of the horse tram tracks. In the committee’s second report, it highlighted that members felt the DoI ‘lacked a clear plan for the completion of the ‘second phase’ of the promenade scheme to lay the single track for the horse tram between the War Memorial and the Sea Terminal.’

The current plan is for the tender process for that work to be undertaken this summer, but it will be a matter for the next Tynwald to decide whether the work should go ahead. This is despite the fact that the current Tynwald has already voted for the money to be spent on the works.

The committee’s report says: ‘Delaying the project in such a way that a new vote will be required by Tynwald Members after the 2021 General Election is unacceptable. We believe that this deliberately obstructs the will of Tynwald from being carried out, adding further delay and undermining the supremacy of Tynwald Court.

‘We are further concerned that splitting up the work into two phases hides the full budget of the overall project and prevents the public from being able to see transparently any overspend on the original projected total.’

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