The Major Projects Authority (MPA), which was established to work with HM Treasury and other government departments to provide independent oversight on major projects, has been criticised by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for having had little impact on project delivery.
The PAC said it had supported the MPA’s efforts to improve project delivery in government and recognised the steps it had taken to strengthen project assurance, improve transparency, and introduce project-leadership training.
However, MPs at the PAC said that it was “disappointing that after nearly five years we cannot see more tangible signs of what impacts these initiatives have had”.
It added that 35 per cent of projects due for delivery in the next five years were rated red or amber-red, meaning that successful delivery is unachievable or in doubt unless major action is taken.
The PAC believes that there needs to be a body within government that can challenge departments about their plans more robustly, and ask questions about the implementation of their projects – implying that the MPA isn’t currently doing this.
The PAC also said that it was concerned that the January merger of the MPA and Infrastructure UK risks the new body, which has been dubbed the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, becoming “too much of a champion for government projects at the expense of its vital role in challenging government performance”.
The PAC said that the authority should maintain its focus on project assurance and support, and should report to the PAC in January 2017 about the benefits that the merger with Infrastructure UK has produced, with clear examples in relation to projects.
The PAC also recommends that, at the same time, the authority should set out how it has improved data collection and analysis, and set out clear milestones towards reporting publicly how delivery on time, cost and quality has improved across the portfolio.
The MPA should also establish plans for a revised approach for early intervention in major projects to ensure that projects aren’t later rated as red or amber-red. The PAC also recommended that as good project delivery wasn’t well enough understood by policy developers and decision makers outside of the project management profession, that the MPA should offer seminars and workshops to extend awareness of the project-delivery process.
The PAC urged the Cabinet Office to set out, specifically, how the Civil Service reform process will accommodate the need to hire and retain people with specialist skills, including commercial and digital technology skills – both areas where the Civil Service faces particular shortages.
The MPA told the PAC that it was “struggling to retain project directors across the portfolio”, and that this is something else that will have to be tackled by the authority.
Finally, the PAC recommended that the authority needed to push departments to state project benefits clearly and to establish appropriate data systems to measure them.