Documents obtained by the ‘Journal’ reveal the government had a catalogue of concerns over Ilex projects at Ebrington, including that the underground car park and the refurbishment of the Turner Prize Buildings would not be delivered at all.
These concerns are contained in briefing papers and notes drafted for Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister officials prior to a meeting with Ilex representatives on June 11, 2015 to discuss the 2014/15 underspend.
Speaking about the alleged 48% underspend, it is stated in the note: “This represents a real missed opportunity to further regenerate the Ebrington site, create more jobs and is a loss for the city. This is of concern.
“Even if we do not include the £1.7m, your underspend was more than 20%.”
Addressing this, the OFMDFM notes claim of Ilex: “Their ability to mitigate some of the underspend by bringing forward smaller projects shows that there were approved business cases awaiting funding. Not bidding to retain part of the £1.7m shows a lack of ambition.”
It is claimed in the briefing notes that Ilex was asked if they could find an alternative user for the £1.7m for additional projects after it became clear it wasn’t needed for its original purpose, but that Ilex indicated that this was not possible and handed the money back.
The documents state that both the underground car park and buildings 80/81, which housed the Turner Prize during the City of Culture year “were in danger of not being delivered at all until the Sponsorship Branch agreed to get a resource from the Strategic Investment Board to project manage both projects.”
It is clear from the notes that Ilex had stated that the underspend for 2014/15 was down to the cessation of works on a cafe building due to the discovery of part of the 17th Century Star Fort, as well as prolonged contract negotiations regarding the former Turner Prize buildings (now the Creative Hub).
The third reason involved delays in Ilex themselves relocating from the city centre on to Ebrington due to unforeseen costs and the discovery of asbestos in Building 83.
On the latter, the OFMDFM notes state: “The discovery of asbestos in a building of this vintage and design should have been expected and planned for.”
The documents claim that both the underground car park and Buildings 80/81, which housed the Turner Prize “were in danger of not being delivered at all until the Sponsorship Branch agreed to get a resource from the SIB [Strategic Investment Board] to project manage both projects.”
Yet further concerns are raised concerning Ilex not having submitted its revised Business Plan for the present 2015/16 year three months into the year, while business cases for some individual projects were also missing.
The draft Business Plan was submitted at the end of January 2015 but was “the subject of heavy revision” by officials, the OFMDFM notes reveal.
The meeting notes also sets out how five projects relating to separate buildings at Ebrington have not been delivered, while the underground car park was delivered late.
There is “concern about the quality of the business cases submitted by Ilex” and it is revealed that Ilex staff have received guidance on several occasions on how to compile business cases.
“The majority of current projects have required addenda to the original business cases, which entails further delays to the delivery of projects.
“Ilex has complained about the length of time business case approval takes within OFMDFM. This is primarily due to the quality of initial submissions from Ilex and the need for them to follow the 10 step model set out in the Green Book.
“All business cases submitted by Ilex have had a number of drafts required to bring them up to the necessary standard.”