Friday, 30 May 2008

Shaving your presents ...

In public building projects there's a tendency to underestimate the final costs in order to get the project underway because many of the people involved don't think we're prepared to pay for what we get and think they'll have to underestimate the costs so we'll accept them.
Further down the line they find themselves forced to continue the charade so they underestimate risk, ship lateral costs off to other budgets, and hide over-runs so it appears that everything is marvellous in the land of the public realm.

When the project is finished the public purse often has no choice but to foot the bill, however much that is. There's a fairly good examination of this in a book called Megaprojects and Risk. Flyvberg is interested in the biggest projects on the planet but the phenomenon is the same whatever the size of the project (read more at Bent Flyvberg's megaprojects page).

There's a new weapon in the armoury now - imported from the troubled lands of PFI - project shaving. This isn't a technical term, it's a term I've thought of to describe what happens.

Hiding behind the facade of the contract and an apparent willingness to help if possible, there's a desire to ship costs and responsibilities off to someone else. Thus, West Lothian College's PFI landlord considers that it isn't part of the contract to provide a cleaners' sink and charges extra for the privilege (£30k, since you ask), staff at Hairmyres Hospital find that not all of the cleaning is included in the PPP contract, and community groups find it increasingly expensive to rent school facilities out of hours.

And so to trams. There is a very interesting sub-committee of Edinburgh Council's Transport Committee - the Tram Sub-Committee. I know, I know, it sounds awfully 'haud-me-back' but it is interesting. The minute of what appears to be the first meeting indicates a membership of Councillors Wheeler, Hawkins and Henderson - two Libdems and one Labour, and all three fervent advocates of this scheme - two of them directors of tie. Surely they shouldn't be sitting on this committee?

You'll note that item 3 in the minute was an agreement to ask the Scottish Government and "other bodies" (unspecified) for more money for the "public realm works on the tram route." What?

Well, that's in a report to the committee. That report discusses "public realm options which could be developed in connection with the Edinburgh Tram project" in spite of its later acknowledgement that "the design brief identified requirements to develop a landscape and habit management plan and to ensure that environmental impacts were mitigated."
That's what I call shaving the project. How much is the Tram project looking to ship off onto others? Well, start with £1 million to "to progress the design concepts" - yup, not even a design concept yet, far less any design - but they do have a shopping list of costs to add to the £1 million. Let's go on a journey through fantasy tram stops -

£2 million for Leith Walk (these caring councillors want to take it from the Services for Communities budget)
£1.76 m for Picardy Place
£950,000 - Haymarket
£2.74 m - Princes Street
£790,000 - Bernard Street
£2.75 m - Shandwick Place
£830,000 - Coates and Atholl Crescents
£350,000 - St Andrew Square (this isn't the stuff that's already been done)
£300,000 - contingency
£300,000 - presentation
Amazing - £13.77 million that isn't a tram cost anymore - the most expensive shave I've seen in quite a while. In common parlance - they're at the capers.

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