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Positives – but council 'must learn lessons' from Civic halls revamp

Wolverhampton Council has been told to take "lessons learnt" from the Civic halls revamp as it emerged more than £5.5million has been spent on consultants for the long-delayed project.

Councillor Ian Brookfield takes a walk around The Halls, Wolverhampton
Councillor Ian Brookfield takes a walk around The Halls, Wolverhampton

The popular venue – now known as The Halls Wolverhampton – is finally set to reopen in June after an eight-year refurbishment scheme expected to cost almost £50m.

Auditors Grant Thornton reviewed the scheme in their annual report, having previously said the council’s inadequate management of the project had resulted in delays and increased costs.

The report reveals the Labour-run council has spent more than £5.5m on consultants. It also says the final cost of the revamp was still unknown due to "ongoing legal activity around compensation events".

It said: "It is crucial that the council take lessons learnt from the Civic Halls refurbishment project to future capital projects that it delivers."

The report said that since January 2018 the council had taken "extensive steps" to address previous issues. It said there were no "significant weaknesses" in its management of the project, including in the appointment of consultants.

Grant Thornton says it will "continue to monitor" the scheme through its value for money work.

Councillor Craig Collingswood, chair of the council’s audit and risk committee, said: "It’s very pleasing to see that independent auditors have given the council a clean bill of health in this report, finding no significant weaknesses in the management of the Civic Halls refurbishment project.

"As public money is involved, it’s imperative that there are checks and challenges in place to ensure that the residents of the city can be independently assured that value for money is achieved.

"I’m pleased that our committee, along with the work of the auditors, is able to clearly demonstrate that this has indeed been achieved."

Councillor Ian Brookfield takes a walk around The Halls, Wolverhampton

Conservative councillor Ellis Turrell, vice chair of the council’s scrutiny board, said: "When we see over £5.5m spent on consultants’ fees alone, serious questions have to be asked about whether the council had the expertise and experience to embark on this costly major project.

"We still do not know the final cost of this much-delayed refurbishment, which at the last count was approaching £50m – a staggering five times the original budget.

"The auditors conclude that it is absolutely crucial that lessons are learnt and mistakes are not repeated in future council projects.

"But despite Labour councillors’ attempts to rebrand the Civic and airbrush history, the residents of Wolverhampton have already made up their mind on what they think about the disastrous mishandling of their money by the council."

The Civic halls project has been dogged by disaster since it first closed its doors in 2015 for what was expected to be a £10.4m revamp.

Long delays have resulted from a series of issues including the collapse of the original contractor Shaylor Group, the discovery of asbestos, and the Covid pandemic.

The venue has now been taken over by AEG Presents, and will host shows from artists including McFly, Sugababes, Gabrielle and Level 42.

Wolverhampton Council leader, Councillor Ian Brookfield, said: "The findings of the report are testament to the hard work of everyone involved with the project, ensuring once again the city has a world class entertainment venue that will attract people to the city and reinvigorate our nightlife."

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