Blog: £80m worth of lessons to be learned

By Dundee Councillor Jimmy Black

To say the £80 million cost of the V&A came as something of a shock would be an understatement. Firm, confident assurances from a battery of expert advisers were clearly enough to dull our critical faculties over the past few years.

I am glad to say the mysteries have now been revealed and we all have a much better idea of what this project will cost and what it will bring to the city. Personally I wish the process had been different, but we are where we are.

In short, we now have a commitment to a Project Board including elected members from administration and opposition, an assurance that the Board will have independent professional advice, an independent inquiry into how £45m turned into £80m, and clarity on the respective roles of the council’s Project Board and Dundee Design Ltd.

There is roughly £70m, perhaps £74m of external investment in Dundee for a council stake of £6.5m and the prospect of a building which will transform the Waterfront and help us keep talented designers here in Dundee creating jobs. The underestimate is embarrassing but we can live with that, as long as we deliver this project for Dundee.

We also have more information about the contractor and previous blacklisting. To his credit, Cllr McReady produced some forensic questioning which made it clear that BAM Scotland, the council’s preferred contractor. is part of the same legal entity as BAM construction UK. The UK outfit had stopped blacklisting in 1998. While representatives of the Scottish arm of BAM were adamant that they were a fair company who had never blacklisted in Scotland, it was a useful clarification.

Cllr McReady also pointed out that another member of the BAM Group had blacklisted much more recently. Given the assurances from our officers, from the BAM representatives present and the construction jobs which this project will bring to Dundee, there was little choice but to press on. I also believe the assurances from the BAM representatives present in the Chamber were credible. Nonetheless, if there is any hint that illegal practices such as blacklisting are being used in connection with any council contract, I hope workers and trades unions will come forward.

Finally, I hope the independent inquiry into the budget problems will go beyond technical questions and into the realm of public affairs. If anyone had told us back in 2007 that the V&A would cost £80m; that the council would contribute at least £6.5m; that there would be running costs to the council of roughly half a million a year in cash and kind; and that it could take until 2018 to build, would we have said yes?

I’d like to think we’d have had that level of ambition. But I’m not 100 per cent sure.

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