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Delivering major projects in government: a briefing for the Committee of Public Accounts

The National Audit Office has today published a progress report on measures to improve the delivery of major government projects. These include major service reforms, ICT projects and infrastructure and construction projects. There have been initiatives designed to improve the oversight and delivery of projects but their impact is unclear, and it is of particular concern that a third of projects due to deliver in the next five years are rated as being in doubt or unachievable if action is not taken to improve delivery.

There are 149 projects in the Government Major Project Portfolio (the Portfolio), with a combined whole-life cost of £511 billion and an expected spend of £25 billion in 2015-16. These projects require Treasury approval based on their size, risk and impact. The public sector as a whole delivers many more projects outside the Portfolio, for example, through arm’s length bodies and other bodies such as Network Rail.

The public sector has had a poor track record in delivering projects successfully. While in the last Parliament, the NAO reported on improvements in the way aspects of programmes in some departments were managed, we also reported regularly on project failures and on ongoing projects that were experiencing considerable difficulties. Key recurring issues included an absence of portfolio management at both departmental and government level; lack of clear, consistent data with which to measure performance; poor early planning; lack of capacity and capability to undertake a growing number of projects; and a lack of clear accountability for leadership of a project.

The Infrastructure and Projects Authority (the former Major Projects Authority) and departments have taken many positive steps to develop capability and provide greater assurance on improving project delivery.  However, it is difficult to tell whether performance is improving without reliable and consistent measures of project success. Despite some improvements in the level of information published on major projects, there are still a number of issues which make it difficult to form conclusions about trends in performance. These include the amount of project turnover in the Portfolio; the limited data published by departments; inconsistent reporting of costs; and no systematic monitoring of whether the intended benefits have been achieved. ......

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