Fury as MPs blow £10,000 on sketch of Big Ben covered in scaffolding

Fury as MPs blow £10,000 on sketch of Elizabeth Tower covered in scaffolding to commemorate bungled renovation despite costs soaring by £50MILLION – and about to go even higher

MPs are facing fury today after it emerged they paid £10,000 for a sketch of the Elizabeth Tower covered in scaffolding.

The outlay on the drawing of the obscured landmark was approved by a cross-party committee to commemorate the project for posterity, saying it represented a ‘significant moment’. 

But the news sparked disbelief as the renovation has descended into a shambles, with the costs spiralling from around £29million to £80millions.

MailOnline understands the bill is set to rise even higher as coronavirus restrictions have made working conditions trickier and caused delays for the four-year timetable.

The acquisition of the sketch, titled ‘Ben’ and by artist Luke Adam Hawker, at a £10,000 price tag was slipped out in the latest annual report of the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art.

The acquisition of the sketch, titled ‘Ben’ and by artist Luke Adam Hawker (pictured), at a £10,000 price tag was slipped out in the latest annual report of the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art

The restoration of the near-200 year-old structure at the Palace of Westminster was launched in 2017, with a lift installed, a new electric motor mechanism, and repairs to the face and roof

The document said: ‘The drawing depicts the scaffolded Elizabeth Tower in 2019 and was made in situ. 

‘The Elizabeth Tower is an iconic landmark and the drawing records a significant moment in its history.’ 

The purchase was made in October 2019, according to the report. 

It is understood Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle, who has been pushing to cut costs of the wider Parliamentary restoration, was not aware of the move to acquire the drawing. 

The restoration of the near-200 year-old structure at the Palace of Westminster was launched in 2017, with a lift installed, a new electric motor mechanism, and repairs to the face and roof.

The famous bongs of Big Ben were silenced while the overhaul took place, amid claims that worker’s hearing would be put at risk if the sounds continued.  

The costs were initially put at around £29million.

But that bill quickly rose by £32million when detailed surveys were carried out, and then soared by another £18million after bomb damage and asbestos issues were uncovered. 

The dramatic rise triggered a major backlash within Parliament over how the figure could have been so badly underestimated, with complaints that MPs and peers were then left with no choice but to approve the extra spending.  

Politicians have been told the costs will now inevitably rise again due to the coronavirus situation, potentially by millions of pounds. 

John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘Expensive art paints a picture of a parliament that can’t keep costs under control.

‘Commons officials should remember that the Westminster refurbishment programme will be judged by its value for money for taxpayers, not its range commemorative artworks.’

A spokesman for the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art said: ‘The Committee takes its financial responsibilities very seriously and value for money remains a key consideration at all times when acquiring works of art. Since 2009-10 the total annual budget for acquiring works of art for the Collection has been reduced by approximately a third.

‘The Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art is committed to reflecting the development of the Parliamentary Estate within the Parliamentary Art Collection. 

It is understood Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle (pictured this week), who has been pushing to cut costs of the wider Parliamentary restoration, was not aware of the move to acquire the drawing

‘As the restoration of the Elizabeth Tower represents the largest and most complex conservation in the Tower’s history, the piece falls squarely within the House of Commons Works of Art Acquisitions Policy – meeting several criteria, specifically, an item having a direct link to the heritage and development of the Parliamentary Estate, capturing a significant moment in its history.’

A House of Commons spokesman did not deny that the costs of the project are set to rise again due to the coronavirus situation.

‘We are working with our supply chain to ascertain and limit the impact of COVID-19 on all our projects,’ the spokesman said. 

‘Following government guidance to ensure the health and safety of our extended workforce remains our main priority, and work is continuing on site, in line with advice from the government.’

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