Whitehall better at managing major projects, says NAO

2 May 12
The management of large Whitehall IT and construction projects has improved since the government set up the Major Projects Authority, but the monitoring system is still not ‘built to last’, the National Audit Office has found.

By Richard Johnstone | 2 May 2012

The management of large Whitehall IT and construction projects has improved since the government set up the Major Projects Authority, but the monitoring system is still not ‘built to last’, the National Audit Office has found.

In a study examining the government’s assurance arrangements for major projects, auditors said that the creation of the MPA in 2010 led to better quality data and had produced reports to support Treasury funding decisions.

The authority was created by the Cabinet Office and the Treasury after the NAO warned that there was no effective central system to monitor large Whitehall schemes.

According to today’s report, there are 205 projects in the government major project portfolio, with a combined whole-life cost of £376bn, and an annual cost of £14.6bn.

The MPA revealed in February this year that fewer than half of these major schemes were on track to be delivered on time and on budget, and the NAO today said that 39 projects currently had the low confidence rating of 'red' or 'amber/red'.

Examining the agency’s work in its first year, auditors found that parts of its assurance system had yet to be formalised, and that there should be greater co-operatation with the Treasury and other government departments.

The NAO found that some departments had not met the requirement to have up-to-date project plans, and were not providing the authority with enough staff to use as assurance reviewers.

Also, there is not yet cross-government agreement on how to publish project information transparently.

Auditor general Amyas Morse said that the NAO supported the government’s ambition to ‘eradicate the poor performance which has led in the past to the failure of major projects’.

Although the launch of the MPA was a ‘big step forward’, he said that the government was ‘still at the beginning’. He added: ‘To quote Sir Francis Drake: “There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory”.

‘If the new system is to be “built to last”, the Major Projects Authority needs to carry out the initial commitments to public reporting and be part of more fully integrated assurance across government.’

Responding to the report, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said that the NAO had ‘rightly recognised the huge impact the authority has had in its first year’ in helping tightly manage major projects.

He added: ‘The cost, ambition, complexity and risk of major government projects have increased hugely over the past decade – our monitoring system allows us to go out and intervene where projects need support. We publish more data than ever before and will publish the first ever annual report on major projects soon.'

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