MPs savage EU's Galileo sat-nav project

MPs have savaged the EU’s Galileo global positioning system project, warning that it would be “entirely unacceptable” to go ahead with the multibillion pound scheme without a rigorous evaluation of its costs and benefits.

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MPs have savaged the EU’s Galileo global positioning system project, warning that it would be “entirely unacceptable” to go ahead with the multibillion pound scheme without a rigorous evaluation of its costs and benefits.

In a scathing report, the Commons transport committee suggests that the best solution might be to scrap the scheme.

The MPs condemnation adds to the increasing precariousness of the Galileo sat-nav project. In September, the European Commission said it would take on an estimated €2.4bn (£1.7bn) costs from the private sector – on top of €1bn (£700m) of previously committed EU funds – after the public-private partnership arrangement originally underpinning the project was axed in June.

Now the transport committee has warned: “The estimated and outturn costs of the Galileo programme have increased at every stage of its history. We have no reason to believe that even the very substantial costs now estimated for the total programme bear any significant relationship to the likely outturn.”

The UK government had pinpointed specific areas of concern in the current cost
estimates, and it is “essential that any under-estimates are rectified before a decision is taken on the future of Galileo”, the committee’s report says.

Comprehensive, rigorous and realistic information was “in short supply across many crucial aspects of the Galileo programme”, the MPs warned, leaving “no sound basis on which to make very important and extremely costly decisions”.

“It would be entirely unacceptable to proceed with the Galileo project at this stage without fresh, independent and rigorous evaluations of the balance between costs and benefits,” the committee’s report says.

The UK government had made this point to its European partners “on many occasions”, the MPs noted, adding: “It would appear that it has fallen on deaf ears in Brussels.”

The report adds: “It is entirely conceivable that the best cost-benefit solution at this stage might be to scrap the programme entirely.” The government should not draw back from this conclusion if that was where the evidence pointed, the MPs urged.

But they suggested that “a smaller-scale project of some kind”, perhaps with fewer satellites, offered the best way forward.

The government must urgently press for the information needed to make sound judgements to be made on the future of Galileo, they said. “We fear that Galileo’s status as a flagship grand projet is clouding the judgement of some in relation to its true, realistic and proven merits,” they warned.

No amount of “perceived prestige and status derived from competing in a civilian space race” or “vague but euphoric anticipation” of enormous economic benefits could make up for the lack of rigorous cost-benefit figures, the MPs said.

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