‘Risks’ warning from money experts on £48 million Civic Halls revamp

Financial experts have warned there is a "risk of significant weakness" in Wolverhampton Council’s bid to achieve value for money in the £48 million Civic Halls refurbishment project.

The refurbishment of The Halls Wolverhampton is finally nearing completion after years of delays
The refurbishment of The Halls Wolverhampton is finally nearing completion after years of delays

The much-loved venue in North Street, Wolverhampton, is set to reopen in 2023 after a delayed refurbishment costing five times its original budget.

The prospect of live events returning has created excitement in the city, with Gabrielle, Level 42 and Diversity the first three acts already booked in.

But in a new report, Wolverhampton Council’s external auditors, Grant Thornton, have questioned the authority's "arrangements to achieve value for money".

The venue, now known as The Halls Wolverhampton and run by AEG Presents, is scheduled to open next June after an eight-year revamp dogged by a series of delays.

The report, which was presented to the council's audit and risk committee, states: "We have identified a risk of significant weakness in relation to the arrangements to achieve value for money during the Civic Halls refurbishment due to the challenges it has faced and the overall cost of the project.

"This risk impacts our assessment of the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the council’s arrangements."

Conservative councillor Ellis Turrell, vice chair of the council’s scrutiny board, said Grant Thornton was currently undertaking "additional audit work" over the council's management of the scheme.

He said this includes an examination of the timeline and budget increases since the venue's closure in 2015, when the project was expected to cost £10m and take 18 months to complete.

Councillor Turrell said: "The statement from the external auditors calling into question the efficiency and effectiveness of Wolverhampton Council’s value for money arrangements is staggering.

"The litany of failures that the Labour-run council has made throughout the Civic Halls refurbishment continues, and now the auditors have recognised that there is a risk of significant weakness in meeting the council’s strict value for money requirements."

He added: "Everyone wants to see this disastrous project come to an end as quickly as possible, but there are still serious questions for the council to answer over how it has managed the project from the start, and whether money could have been saved.

"The current budget of £50 million is now five times the original amount, and we still don’t know the final cost. I hope the external auditors are able to provide the answers to the questions that many people in Wolverhampton still have."

A Wolverhampton Council spokesperson said: "Grant Thornton publicly expressed confidence in the council’s finances this week, stating plans to give an ‘unqualified opinion’ on the financial statement in the latest published accounts.

"Grant Thornton also confirmed it will, as part of its statutory value for money work, review in more detail the way the council has managed the Civic Halls project, due to its high-profile nature and significant media coverage.

"The Halls will open its doors in 2023, with tickets already on sale for a number of live shows. Operated by world renowned entertainment company AEG Presents, the Halls will attract 300,000 visitors annually and bring £10 million a year into the city’s economy."

A full report is expected to be presented at the next audit and risk committee meeting on January 23.

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