EU spending gripes
Just a very quick add to yesterday's blog. Every year the auditors and the European Commission say the vast majority of problems are not fraud, but they don't want to give examples because they fear it would undermine otherwise successful projects. Thanks to a very helpful source I have got some detail on the sort of mistakes that are made. It's not colourful, or ridiculous, or funny, but I'm pretty sure this is the sort of stuff that is typical.
The Manchester site of the Imperial War Museum got around £8m of European Union money. The whole project cost about £17m. It's a building designed by the famous architect Daniel Libeskind, whose work includes the amazing Jewish Museum in Berlin.
The Imperial War Museum North is his first work in Britain. But the auditors found "significant gaps" in the selection of the contract, including no evidence of the evaluation of the tenders, no evaluation of the interviews conducted with the 11 bidders and no evidence of the discussions with the three architects shortlisted. So the EU will ask for its money back.
Although perhaps not the sexiest of examples, it does seem to me to highlight one of the difficulties. It is not exactly a hard call to give the job to Mr Libeskind: it is somehow on a rather different plane to deciding between the North-West Building Corporation and the Corporation of Builders from the North-West. But the EU has rules that have to be followed to show that no one is cheating or doing anything improper, which must turn something of an artistic conception into a nightmare of paperwork. But without the paperwork how do you show everything is above board? As ever, those who worry the most about improper spending of taxpayers' money are also the loudest in condemning excessive bureaucracy. And does the apparent failure of those in charge of the project imply that the EU itself has failed?
UPDATE: The museum authorities say they are "not aware that there is any issue with the EU".
A statement from a museum spokesperson said that in 2004 auditors acting for the EU had asked various detailed questions "regarding the initial appointment of contractors in 1997".
"Not all of the detail that was requested, such as copies of letters to unsuccessful tenderers, was still available at that period of time after the initial tender process in 1997. However, this does not mean that proper processes were not carried out," the statement said.
The museum insists that "all processes and procedures were carried out correctly".