Whitehall departments have started publishing appointment letters, including objectives, timetables and targets, for senior civil servants in charge of major government projects.
Civil servants who lead major projects are called the ‘Senior Responsible Owner’ (SRO). Eight of 17 Whitehall departments have published SRO appointment letters so far.
They cover projects like Universal Credit, smart meters, border systems and internal IT estate replacements, such as HM Revenue & Customs replacement of its £1 billion-a-year ‘Aspire’ deal with Capgemini.
For example, the letter regarding ‘Aspire’ tells HMRC’s chief information and digital officer Mark Dearnley he is responsible for ensuring the department is ready to replace the contract with a cheaper alternative when it expires in June 2017.
All of the letters include a paragraph explaining the SRO is only accountable for the implementation of projects, not for the policy decisions or development, which are the responsibility of the minister in charge.
The SRO concept, introduced in 2000, is for there to be a single, senior figure driving delivery of a specific project who can be held accountable both within the department and externally.
The idea has been called into question since then. SROs often change during the lifetime of a number of projects, making it difficult for any one person to be held accountable for delivery.
For example the government’s beleaguered benefit reform scheme Universal Credit is now on its seventh chief in just two years.
However, the publication of these letters, which state what is expected of SROs and by when, can only be a positive step for those scrutinising the delivery of major government projects.