Government has ‘no alternative location’ for Holocaust Memorial, report finds
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Government has ‘no alternative location’ for Holocaust Memorial, report finds

Probe into proposed £109m Westminster Holocaust Memorial by the National Audit Office finds Department involved 'does not have a track record of managing programmes'.

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick (right), holocaust survivor Sir Ben Helfgott and his grandson Reuben at Victoria Gardens in Westminster, London, celebrating the go-ahead being given to a Holocaust memorial. Picture date: Thursday July 29, 2021.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick (right), holocaust survivor Sir Ben Helfgott and his grandson Reuben at Victoria Gardens in Westminster, London, celebrating the go-ahead being given to a Holocaust memorial. Picture date: Thursday July 29, 2021.

The Government “does not have an alternative location if it is unable to build the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in Victoria Tower Gardens” next to Parliament, a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) has found.

An investigation, published today, also concluded that the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities”does not have a track record of managing programmes” such as the controversial £102.9m Holocaust memorial project.

It also warns of spiralling costs for the project with “a risk that the contingency is not enough to cover further cost increases.”

The report concludes:” As at March 2022, the forecast cost to build the Memorial and Learning Centre was £102.9 million (plus contingency).

“The Department estimates that the total costs of running the Memorial and Learning Centre are ‘likely to be in the range’ of £6 million to £8 million per year.”

It adds:”The projected set-up costs for the Memorial and Learning Centre have continued to increase partly due to changes in scope and the inclusion of expenses that had not previously been costed.”

The NAO said that it had carried out their investigation in “response to correspondence from members of Parliament who raised concerns about the programme’s governance, cost transparency and management, and how the aims and specifications of the programme could be achieved.”

In April this year, the High Court surprisingly quashed plans to build the memorial at Victoria Tower Gardens, despite the fact that the project haf originally received planning permission last year after a six-week public inquiry.

The London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust had brought a case against the decision, arguing that it was the “right idea, wrong place”.

But the NAO report reveals there is now no alternative location for the Memorial, with the Victoria Gardens locations originally having been decided when David Cameron first gave the project the go ahead when he was Prime Minister.

It states:”The Department does not have an alternative location if it is unable to build the Memorial and Learning Centre in Victoria Tower Gardens.

The Department still considers the choice of Victoria Tower Gardens intrinsic to the Memorial and Learning Centre.

“It has decided not to develop a ‘plan B’ for an alternative location should the planning application be ultimately unsuccessful.

” It told us that changing to a different location would result in needing to start many aspects of the programme from scratch.”

In a further criticism, the NAO warns that the Department of Levelling Up has no previous track record on projects of this scale.

It states:”In January 2015, the government chose the Department to lead the programme because of its remit to support community and faith groups, rather than because it had any expertise in constructing and managing cultural centres and museums.

“The Department was not involved in the Prime Minister’s earlier decision to develop the Memorial and Learning Centre nor in the initial decision to allocate government funding of £50 million.”

It also concludes that while the Department had recruited specialists from across the civil service and externally, “the team does not have staff with programme management expertise in senior positions.”

Altthough construction of the project has not started a team led by Sir David Adjaye won a role to design the project which has now been delayed.

The report notes how “set-up costs for the Memorial and Learning Centre have continued to increase partly due to changes in scope and the inclusion of expenses that had not previously been costed.”

The government is revealed to value the advice it has received from an board of external advisers – the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation Advisory Board.

The government said it would consider its next steps but remained committed to the creation of a new national memorial commemorating the victims of the Holocaust.

The project has been backed by a succession of Prime Ministers, and leaders of all political parties, along with Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.

Jewish News has contacted the Department for Levelling Up for comment.

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