NAO: one in three Whitehall projects may be unachievable

6 Jan 16

One-third of major Whitehall projects due to be delivered in the next five years could be “unachievable” unless action is taken to improve management of the schemes, the National Audit Office said today.

In an examination of the 149 projects in the Government Major Project Portfolio for the Public Accounts Committee, auditors said the impact of initiatives intended to improve the oversight and delivery of projects, such as the creation of the Major Projects Authority, had been unclear.

The portfolio of major schemes has a combined whole-life cost of £511bn and projects include public service reforms such as the Better Care Fund and Universal Credit as well as infrastructure and construction projects such as High Speed 2.

Across the 106 major projects due to deliver in the next five years, 34% are rated as red or amber-red. This means they were judged to be in doubt or unachievable if improvements were not made.

The number of projects where successful delivery was in doubt or unachievable unless action was taken (a red or amber-red rating) has increased since 2012, the Delivering major projects in government report found.
Although this was in part due to more risky projects having entered the portfolio, the report also found that, of the 56 projects that had remained on the portfolio from 2012 to 2015, 17 had red or amber-red ratings in June 2015 compared with 12 in 2012. However, the number of projects considered highly likely to deliver on time and on budget (rated green or amber-green) also increased, from 16 in 2012 to 25 in 2015.

Auditors highlighted that the public sector had a poor track record of delivering projects successfully. Recurring issues included a lack of clear, consistent data with which to measure performance, poor early planning, and a lack of capacity and capability to undertake a growing number of projects. There was also a lack of clear accountability for leadership of a project.

Although the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (the former Major Projects Authority) and departments themselves had worked to improve delivery, it was difficult to judge effectiveness without reliable and consistent measures of project success, auditors said.

In addition, issues remain that make it difficult for auditors to form conclusions about trends in performance, including limited data published by departments and inconsistent reporting of costs.

Auditor general Amyas Morse said he acknowledged that a number of positive steps have been taken by the authority and client departments.
“At the same time, I am concerned that a third of projects monitored by the authority are red or amber-red and the overall picture of progress on project performance is opaque. More effort is needed if the success rate of project delivery is to improve.”

Responding to the report, a Cabinet Office spokesman said: “This government is committed to improving the way major projects are run. That is why we set up the Infrastructure and Projects Authority – to save taxpayers’ money and improve public services. This is helping achieve over £3bn of savings in 2014/15 alone.

“We will continue to drive for improved performance through the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, which will be a single centre of expertise for project development, financing, assurance and support in government. We value the NAO's recommendations and will consider how the IPA can best take these forward.”

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