Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
MONDAY 1 MARCH 1999
LANGLANDS and MR
40. So the taxpayer effectively at the end
of the day has to pick up that difference?
(Sir Alan Langlands) To the extent that value
has been achieved for that money and there is not really a point
beyond that 1991 period where the NAO Report criticises value
for money, these are legitimate changes. Something was received
in return for these payments being made to the contractors and
there is no doubt about that, but the early control and the early
planning and the failure to freeze the design was not, in my view,
and I have accepted, in the interests of the taxpayer.
41. Sir Alan, this Report appears to me
to catalogue an unbelievable amount of incompetence and complacency
verging on sheer recklessness going from the decision to base
it on a greenfield site, and we know what the site looks like
because we have seen pictures, down to the actual day-to-day control
and management for long periods. It seemed to be out of control
and there was no real management control at all. Would you agree
with that statement?
(Sir Alan Langlands) I do not agree with it entirely,
but I have
42. How much of it do you agree with then?
(Sir Alan Langlands) I think that there were controls
at certain points. These were clearly not sufficient and I think
the work from the point at which the scheme was costed at £83.1
million, the process from then on in at least has an explanation
and one can uncover the reasons why certain changes were being
made and indeed the NAO do not comment adversely on many of these.
What I think
43. Would you agree that clearly this project
was out of control and no one really had site control over the
(Sir Alan Langlands) I think there was a period,
well, there was an early phase where the costings were unrealistic
and I accept that there was no
44. But in terms of the day-to-day management,
the relationship with the contractors?
(Sir Alan Langlands) I think in the period, I
would judge, 1989 to 1992, this could have been controlled much
better without any doubt.
45. What worries me a little bit is the
way you have commented on this here in terms of complacency. I
am not quite sure, I do detect that complacency in the way you
have approached this in the answers to the Chairman and Mr William's
question earlier. You talk about: "Well all of this happened
a long time and I cannot really get to the bottom of it",
well that is important in terms of what lessons will you learn
in the future. You say: "The community has got a good local
hospital, good services". Well, that might be fine in London
but to my constituents in my constituency of North Cheshire and
Merseyside that does not give them any comfort the fact that this
has overrun by such a massive amount of money, why should that
be? Why should that give us comfort? The fact is that if you have
not got a good service out of this it would be even more unbelievable
in terms of what has happened in this.
(Sir Alan Langlands) Certainly I do not want to
be complacent about this. Indeed as a result of coming into a
position of seeing this scheme not being adequately controlled,
we have intervened at two levels. I intervened at two levels.
One was to stabilise the position in relation to this scheme with
the help of Tim Matthews and his staff and the other was to prepare
very clear national guidelines and very clear control mechanisms
that were aimed at ensuring that this did not happen again. To
that extent there is absolutely no complacency. I accept also
that where one cannot give a legitimate answer in relation to
some of the cost increases or a legitimate explanation that is
poor and that the inflated costs of this scheme probably did have
a detrimental effect on the timing of other major health schemes
around the country. As I said in relation to Mr Page's question
I cannot specify which one.
46. If you look at paragraph 2.13 page 23
it says: "... represented a real term cost increase of £41
million (80 per cent)."
(Sir Alan Langlands) Yes.
47. £41 million?
(Sir Alan Langlands) Yes.
48. Now you can think what that might have
done around the country in terms of other hospitals and other
services. The point I am getting at here is this is not just an
issue of overrunning by a small amount, it is a massive amount
which has had implications for really the whole country in terms
of the health service. It was not just a little blip, this was
an absolutely massive incompetence exercise by those in charge.
(Sir Alan Langlands) Certainly it is true that
it is very significant and I do not wish to understate that or
understate the effects in other places.
49. I am glad to hear that because I thought
you were doing before.
(Sir Alan Langlands) I am not setting out to do
that, although as we have said, some of these cost increases have
explanations. The most significant, obviously, being the VAT but
some others, the improvement of mental health services in that
part of London was judged to be a priority against all the priorities
in the country. It was not as if we were willy nilly spending
all of this money but I do accept
50. You spent a fair amount of it willy
(Sir Alan Langlands) I do accept
that there were failures of control. I have said that several
51. Can we just be clear on this. You accept
there were failures, were they significant failures, sizeable
failures or were they minor? Can we be a little more specific?
(Sir Alan Langlands) On a scheme of this scale
there were significant failures and I accept that they have a
knock on effect probably on the pace of capital investments in
other parts of the country. I cannot be plainer than that.
52. Can we just come back to the issue of
the design brief again. I put to you paragraph 2.28. It says in
the second sentence: "...'their work was being hampered by
the fact that the client was still developing the design brief'."
(Sir Alan Langlands) The question is?
53. It says: "...' their work was being
hampered by the fact that the client was still developing the
(Sir Alan Langlands) Yes.
54. Is that a significant or a minor error.
(Sir Alan Langlands) I think the chosen contractual
route was a management contract. At the heart of this management
contract I think there was an issue about the role of the consulting
engineers for the mechanical and electrical work. It has not been
possible in all of this to untanglethese were significant
issues, I accept they are significantwhether Austen Associates,
the consulting engineers concerned, were just late because of
changes in the design brief, over which they had no control, or
they were inefficient or as we suspected later problems arose
at the interface between the design
55. Can I interrupt you there. Time is brief.
Can we come back to this, would you accept that particular mistake
had massive implications for the whole project?
(Sir Alan Langlands) I think that the failure
to freeze the design on a project of this scale was bound to have
56. Large financial implications?
(Sir Alan Langlands) Significant financial implications.
(Sir Alan Langlands) Also I can see why there
may have been reasons, because of the complexity of the mechanical
and electrical engineering, why these things cropped up. It has
not been possible to untangle these reasons and indeed part of
that complexity is why there was a settlement out of court on
58. You feel confident that will not happen
again despite the fact that you were not able to untangle the
complexities of this?
(Sir Alan Langlands) I think there is much more
control and there is very clear guidance about the need to freeze
designs at the earliest possible opportunity and to try and fix
costs, to estimate risks and to ensure that projects are more
consistently and conscientiously managed.
59. Can we go on to the fact that in paragraph
2.32 at page 29it is something which follows on reallycan
you tell me why there is no agreed funding strategy? You can see
there it says that: "In February 1991, the Region and Trustees
proceeded with a Stage 2 management contract, despite failing
to resolve the funding issues". Another sizeable error.
(Sir Alan Langlands) I explained earlier that
their decision to proceed was pretty finely balanced. It is the
issue I talked about with Mr Page. It was the gap between the
£83 million and the £115 million. VAT accounted for
a large sum of that but there was still an overshoot at that point
of 18 per cent. The Treasury guideline should have been to report
back in, if you like, to the centre if the excess had been greater
than 10 per cent. These were estimates rather than tender prices.
There was an assumption because of the slump in the building industry,
that the tender prices would deal with that gap and that general
growth later, in line with the GDP deflator, would cover additional