The BBC’s E20 programme, to replace and enlarge the external EastEnders set and improve various infrastructure is now forecast to cost £27m more, and take an additional two and a half years to complete
In its report, published today (13 December), the National Audit Office (NAO) concludes that the BBC will not be able to deliver value for money on the E20 programme in the way that it envisaged in 2015.
The BBC built the external filming set for EastEnders in 1984, and originally planned to use it for two years. It has lasted for 34 years but is no longer fit for purpose. The poor condition of the set means the BBC cannot film in high-definition, degradation has led to increasing filming delays owing to stoppages in production due to health and safety concerns, and there are ongoing maintenance costs to ensure filming can continue.
In 2013, the BBC proposed building a temporary set, two-thirds of the size, to use while it constructed a new permanent set. It expected E20 to cost £59.7m and to be completed by August 2018.
However, due partly to forecast cost increases, the BBC substantially revised its plans in 2015, moving its target completion date to October 2020. The case for E20, and the rationale for the current approach, is clear. But, in October 2017, the BBC reported internally that its revised plans were no longer achievable due to forecast delays and cost increases.
As a result of more achievable plans, the BBC now forecasts E20 will cost £86.7m – 45% more than the original budget. Most of this increase relates to the higher cost of the Front Lot, which the BBC now estimates will cost £54.7m – £23.5m (75%) more than planned.
Contractor Wates was appointed by the BBC in September 2018 to carry out the work at a fixed price of £24.2m, £9.5m more than the BBC budgeted in October 2015. The BBC expects the Front Lot to be completed at the end of March 2021, 22 months later than originally planned.
The BBC now intends for E20 to be completed in May 2023 – 31 months later than envisaged in its 2015 plans.
Delays largely stem from; procurement delays, as limited market interest resulted in the BBC revising its approach; subsequent contract negotiations taking longer than planned; and more realistic assumptions about the time needed to age the newly-built Lots.
Amyas Morse, head of the NAO said: “The BBC will not be able to deliver value for money on E20 in the way that it originally envisaged. It is surprising that some of the reasons for this were built in from the beginning.
“Despite recent project management improvements, E20 is late and over budget against its 2015 plans. We believe that the planned benefits are still broadly achievable, but given the high-risk nature of E20 it will need close scrutiny until it is finished.”