THE financial management of the Western Relief Road has been branded ‘weak’ in a new report.
Councillors and the public spent almost five hours on Tuesday grilling Warwickshire County Council officials over what went wrong. The report, which was made public in time for the scrutiny meeting, concluded that lax risk management had allowed costs to spiral out of control.
When the road was completed last year it was almost £25m over budget at £60m.
Cllr Alan Cockburn, portfolio holder for environment and economy, said he felt the report – by consultants Contract Auditline – was fair and even handed.
“It’s a hell of a lot of money to overspend on a project, but the council has to take it on the chin and learn what we can.”
He added: “Over last year I’ve been continually hounded by the press and public to come clean about what exactly the overspends were - but because of the council’s commercial interests I’ve not been able to.
“This meeting showed that although we were by no means blameless, many factors were out of our control.”
The report also revealed that Network Rail landed WCC with a £5m bill after delays to work on the West Coast Main Lime and that WCC spent an extra £8m on unexpected utility diversions, consultancy fees and land purchase.
Senior officer Paul Galland, the council’s director for environment and economy, said that ‘in the strictest sense’, he also agreed with CAL’s report, adding that many authorities across the country were also grappling with risk management in similar ways to how WCC had been.
Cllr Richard Chattaway, who sits on WCC Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee, said it was now up to the people of Rugby to decide whether or not the road was value for money. Despite the overspend and delays, the Government’s benefit to cost ratio has the road down as delivering £4.50 worth of benefit for every £1 spent.
Cllr John Whitehouse, chair of the scrutiny committee, said: “Now that negotiations are over we are now able to properly scrutinise the project and understand in detail why it suffered delays during its construction and exceeded its budget by millions of pounds.”
The auditors’ report is available on the county council website.