Bringing the SS Nomadic to Belfast

24 June 2009

Bringing the SS Nomadic to Belfast

Today, John Dowdall CB, Comptroller and Auditor General, published his report on the Department for Social Development’s purchase of the SS Nomadic. Since the purchase of the Nomadic in January 2006 at a cost of £263,000, the Department has incurred further expenditure totalling £650,000 to December 2008 on this project. The report also records that the estimated cost of restoring the vessel to its original condition is in the region of £7 million, although a more accurate estimate will be available on completion of a conservation management plan. This is currently being prepared for the Nomadic Charitable Trust which is responsible for the restoration and ongoing maintenance of the vessel.

Mr Dowdall’s report identifies a number of key lessons, some of which are specific to the successful delivery of the Nomadic project and others that have wider applicability.

Lessons specific to the Nomadic

  • The report records that whilst the business case for the purchase of the Nomadic contained some consideration of how to move the project forward after purchase, a more detailed consideration may have contributed to the project meeting key objectives earlier. This is seen as a key lesson for the Nomadic project and one which, according to today’s report, should have been learned from the purchase of the merchant schooner, ‘The Result’, the subject of a number of reports by the Audit Office and by the Public Accounts Committee at Westminster.
  • The Trust set itself the targets of fundraising £1 million by October 2008 and £5 million by October 2009. However, the report records that raising the expected levels of funds has been a challenge with £1.37 million raised at January 2009.
  • The Trust’s action plan for the restoration phase of the Nomadic indicates that work is to commence in December 2009 and is to be completed ahead of the centenary celebrations in 2011. This, according to Mr Dowdall, will be a challenging target given the delays to date.
  • It is important that the Department and the Trust maximize the opportunity presented by the Titanic Signature Project to attract “large footfalls” to the Nomadic. According to the report this will require the Department and Trust to work closely with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and other government departments to ensure that the Nomadic is intrinsically linked to the overarching Titanic project.

General Lessons

  • The report highlights that a thorough economic appraisal is an essential part of good financial management and is vital to decision-making and accountability. In preparing economic appraisals for any programme or project, departments should fully consider all options and potential risks to the procurement process. Failure to do so will make it more difficult to demonstrate that value for money has been secured.
  • The report also identifies the need for departments to ensure, through their representation and participation on boards such as the Nomadic Charitable Trust, that they can demonstrate that public money is allocated openly and fairly and in line with departmental policies and procedures.