BBC rejects claims of “complacency” as EastEnders set rebuild cost row escalates

The corporation speaks out on MPs criticism of the project going £27 million over budget

bbcjh

The BBC has responded to criticism from MPs over the redevelopment of the EastEnders set following the news it had spiralled over budget by £27 million, with the corporation rejecting claims of complacency in managing the ongoing project.

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In December 2018 the National Audit Office revealed the original forecast cost of £59.7 million had been revised to £86.7 million, leading to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), responsible for overseeing government expenditure, to declare the BBC had been “complacent” and the rebuild was “flawed from the start,” urging the corporation to provide annual updates on the work to parliament in order to “demonstrate it now has a firm grip on the project’s costs and progress”.

Labour MP Meg Hiller, PAC chairwoman, accused the BBC’s approach to building a new HD-ready set on the studio site in Elstree, Hertfordshire, delayed from a 2018 completion date to 2023, of being “entirely at odds with (the show’s) strategic importance to the corporation,” pointing out the extra cost to licence-fee payers.

The PAC report also flagged the importance of securing EastEnders’ status as a flagship BBC show and stated it was being outperformed by ITV rivals such as Coronation Street. “It is important the BBC completes the project so that the programme is best placed to not only succeed but to also secure its long-term future,” said Ms Hiller.

Albert Square, Walford, London, January 2001

“It was a serious error at the outset not to consider exactly what skills would be needed to see (the project) through. The resulting shortfall in key expertise set the tone for much of what followed.”

In a statement, the BBC acknowledged the “challenges along the way, including construction market issues beyond our control and working on a brownfield site,” but strongly rejected “the notion there has been any complacency in managing this project. We have already delivered many vital improvements at BBC Elstree Centre which help other programmes.”

Albert Square - Walford sign

The statement also said the BBC had “made improvements to the project and keep it under close scrutiny.”

The iconic set of the fictional east London square was completed in late 1984 when EastEnders went into production ahead of its launch in February 1985. The rebuild also includes an extension and upgrade to production facilities.

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