The government needs to make reports on its major projects assurance system open and public for it to be effective, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).
Following a series of large-scale project failures, such as FireControl and the NHS’s National Programme for IT (NPfIT), Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude set up the Major Projects Authority (MPA) in March 2011. A partnership between the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury, the MPA’s aim was to scrutinise all big projects funded and delivered by central government.
In its report on the central assurance system for major government projects, however, the NAO said that the system still needed improvements in order to be ‘built to last’.
In particular, it found that the Cabinet Office, HM Treasury and other government departments had not agreed on the format for public reports, or whether to publish them at all – which would go against the government’s transparency agenda.
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “We support government’s ambition to eradicate the poor performance which has led in the past to the failure of major projects. The launch of the Major Projects Authority was a big step forward for the central assurance system and the authority is already having a significant effect.
“But we are still at the beginning. 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.”
Areas where the MPA has been successful in improving the assurance system include collecting project information, such as project costs and benefits and milestones, on a quarterly basis, which has helped improve the quality of project data.
However, the NAO found that some departments have “engaged poorly” with the system, with departments providing project portfolio data and integrated assurance and approvals plans of “variable quality and completeness”.
It also recommended that HM Treasury should take a more holistic view of the information generated by the government’s major project portfolio, so that it can spot potential problems and better prioritise resources.
There are 205 projects in the government’s major project portfolio, with an annual cost of £14.6 billion and a combined whole-life cost of £376 billion.
The National Outsourcing Association (NOA) has backed the NAO's recommendations, and reiterated the importance for the government to be open with its data.
"The National Outsourcing Association applauds all efforts to better capture project performance data, particularly in the area of on-going incremental benefit tracking of IT contracts. Long-term benefit tracking is the way to highlight the true value that these deals bring," said Martyn Hart, chairman of the NOA.
“Knowing which deals are working is one thing, but government departments still need to do more in terms of sharing learnings with each other. Studying the BS11000 standard in collaboration would be a good place to start eradicating a culture of persistent ‘wheel reinvention.’”