Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180-194)



  180. Actual cash out of the door is 40 million?
  (Mr Cavanagh) Yes.

  181. I could not find in here, Sir William, any serious breakdown of all the professional fees, including architects, quantity surveyors, the whole shebang, do you have such a breakdown? Could you let us have a note of it?
  (Sir William McKay) We will do our best to let you have that.[7]

  182. Because like other members of the Committee I was surprised by the size of the fees in relation to the scale of the project. If you could let us have the full breakdown, that would be very helpful.
  (Sir William McKay) Yes, we will of course let you have the figures. Somebody was pointing out the other day, however, that the architects fees, for example, are going to come in below the RIBA standard set figure for buildings of this character and be more akin to the fee for your average civic centre. We will give them to you.

  Mr Bacon: If you could just give us a breakdown of the whole lot, that would be super. Thank you.

Mr Davidson

  183. Can I apologise for being out during part of the session; I had some other business to attend to. Can I start off by saying that having spent some of my time here in a variety of cupboards and corridors and now having a room here, it is infinitely better than anything I have ever experienced before, even if I did occasionally open a window to revive my staff. That is the only difficulty I have experienced. I wonder if I can ask you, Sir William, whether or not you are aware of the recent raid that took place at the site of the Scottish Parliament where police and Benefits Agency staff found that a substantial number of employees on site were working while claiming benefit? Can I clarify the extent of that difficulty on this site?
  (Sir William McKay) That, I imagine, Chairman, would be known, or the knowledge would be available if it was happening, to the construction management, to Laings.
  (Mr Makepeace) The construction manager, which was John Laing, did a check on people who were employed on the site.

  184. On a regular basis?
  (Mr Makepeace) When everybody came in, because, as you can imagine, there were some security requirements on this site, so we knew the name of every contractor's employee who came here.

  185. So you are able to assure us that at no stage was there anyone on site who was working here and claiming benefit at the same time?
  (Sir William McKay) I think you can say that we took all steps that we could to make sure that that was not happening.

  186. Because these are steps that obviously have not been taken on the Scottish Parliament building.
  (Sir William McKay) I do not want to comment on that. Building parliaments is a novel process, and I would not criticise anybody who is involved in that.

  187. I understand. The final point I want to make, Chairman, is the question of accidents to employees on site. Can I ask whether or not there were a number of fatalities, or serious accidents or minor accidents, and how this compares, in your view, with a project of similar size and complexity elsewhere?
  (Sir William McKay) Chairman, it may be that Mr Webber or Mr Makepeace will comment on this, but this was one of the figures which was reported every month to the Project Advisory Board, and I frequently said to the Board how impressed I was by the very limited number of accidents. There was a broken leg, if I remember.
  (Mr Makepeace) That is right.
  (Sir William McKay) I think that was just about it, apart from small injuries which maybe did not keep the man from his work.
  (Mr Makepeace) Chairman, Sir William kept encouraging me to write to the contractors congratulating them, and I refused until we came off site.

  188. Can I have clarification, then, as to how the small total here compared with a similar building of equivalent complexity elsewhere? Was it remarkably less? I understand that you were happy, but then again, to be fair to yourself, Sir William, you have not necessarily managed all that many other building projects.
  (Sir William McKay) I do not know. Others will comment. It is difficult to beat one broken leg on a contract of this size (as long as it was not your leg).
  (Mr Barram) Could I make the point, Mr Davidson, that this was a high-security site. All the workers needed to be vetted, and they were all subjected to a very stringent safety education programme before they were allowed on site. I myself as a visitor, although I came through the site a few times, had each time to go through that safety education programme.

  189. I am particularly interested in the question of safety on building sites. This has arisen on a number of other occasions. I just wondered if you would clarify for me what you believe, then, are the lessons from this project that could usefully be applied elsewhere. Presumably in terms of the exercise that you undertook, certainly the vetting would be expensive, but the safety education presumably would not be enormously expensive, because it certainly has not been drawn to our attention in the document. I wondered whether or not this, then, is a good example of good practice that could be drawn to the attention of the industry?
  (Mr Webber) Chairman, I think there are two examples of good practice that contributed to it, the first of which is the careful safety briefings of every man that came on the site, aided by the fact that there was security entrance only passable by those holding a vetted security card, certainly. I think the other factor which was very important was that this building was uniquely prefabricated. Every component in this building was made in factories off site, finished to the point where it certainly needed only dropping into position and connecting, so the amount of labour on this site was proportionately considerably less than would be the case in a building constructed in a more traditional way.

  190. From that last point, does that mean—and I do not want to be uncharitable—that the safety record is not perhaps as good as it might have appeared, because we are not comparing like with like?
  (Mr Webber) No, I think it is still good, even comparing the factory work which otherwise would have been site work, because the prefabrication was carried out under controlled factory conditions, with trained factory workforces, in conditions that are not as high-risk as typical construction work on a site.

Mr Gardiner

  191. Sir William, could you explain to us, please, why a building that is built to last for 120 years has been constructed without internal flexibility, such that the internal walls are fixed and structural and not subject to removal from one area to another to accommodate changing office requirements over the period?
  (Mr Webber) Chairman, the internal walls are not structural. They may be heavy, but they are removable, and there is advice available for their downloading on occasions, should that be necessary.


  192. To go back to comfort and the air conditioning of the rooms, do you think that, with the benefit of hindsight, it might be better to use a more conventional air-conditioning system?
  (Mr Webber) Chairman, the House at the outset of the design specifically called for designers to produce a green building, an energy-efficient building, but the availability of what amounts to free cooling from boreholes into the chalk aquifers was a very significant opportunity that contributed to environmental benefits in London in more than simply an energy-saving way, because members of the Committee may be aware that the water table under London is tending to rise, and so the water authorities are encouraging pumping of this sort, so there is a second benefit as well. Over the life of this building, since it is so long, the significant energy savings that this design provides will add up to a huge sum of money.

  193. Thank you. Can I ask one more thing. I am sorry to go back to the subject, but I think I would like to ask for Sir John's help, because we have to get this right. Sir John, could you help us? It goes back to the Harmon case, because I am still trying to wrestle with the answers that we received. I think we have been told today that it is accepted that the House broke normal and European procurement rules. That is accepted, but it is then said that the court was wrong in saying that this was in any way deliberate, yet it is accepted that all the bidders had to bid on a different basis. The Report obviously is an agreed report, and it is accepted that the result of the changes was that the design constructed by Seele/Alvis was virtually identical to the design on which Harmon had based its bid. I am having difficulty, Sir John, in reconciling all these answers. Can you help us?
  (Sir John Bourn) Chairman, what I regard as the central point, which I think has been agreed in the discussion, is that the two tenderers were not treated on the same basis. That was clearly underlined in the judge's statement where he says: "Post-tender negotiations with the successful tenderer took place but did not afford Harmon the same opportunity". The essence of the matter is, if you are carrying forward contracting arrangements you have got to treat all the runners on the same basis, if I can put it like that, and you cannot treat one person on one basis and another person on another. This is part and parcel of certainly contracting practice in the public sector in order to be fair and also in order to get the best price, and it is, of course, now clearly a feature of European law that there is a requirement to do this. So I do not think, Chairman, that there would be any disagreement with that aspect of what the judge said or what the Report says. Let me put it this way, if you have several runners in the race, they must start from the same point and they must be treated in the same way.

  194. Thank you very much, Sir John. Sir William, may I thank you and your colleagues. I know there has been some nervousness about this hearing but I think actually Parliament has done itself credit that we have been prepared to ask some difficult questions. I think we should end by saying the building was, of course, delivered overall roughly to time and specification, and that is something to be grateful for. We felt it was our duty today to ask some difficult questions but we are grateful to you and your colleagues for seeking to enlighten us. Thank you very much.
  (Sir William McKay) Thank you, Chairman.


7   Ev 20, Appendix 1. Back

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