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NAO waves warning flag on major projects

06/01/16

ICT and transformation programmes are among those in danger of not being delivered, according to new National Audit Office report

More than a quarter of the long running programmes on the Infrastructure and Projects Authority's (IPA) portfolio are in doubt or unachievable unless action is taken to redress shortcomings, the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned.

Of 56 that had been under the IPA's scrutiny from 2012 (when its role was held by the Major Projects Authority) to June 2015, 17 had red or amber-red rates compared with 12 in 2012; although there has also been an increase in the number with the more positive amber-green and green ratings, up from 16 to 25.

The NAO has highlighted the concerns in a briefing on major projects in government for the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee.

It expresses a particular worry that 37 out of 106 projects due to deliver in the next five years have been labelled red or amber-red. These include ICT, transformation and service programmes that often have a greater risk of failure and need a balance between ambition and realism in their goals.

The report does not provide any indications on the progress of specific projects – a spokesperson said the information has not been available to the NAO – and it highlights problems from a lack of transparency. There are shortcomings in areas such as the amount of project turnover in the portfolio, limited data published by departments, inconsistent reporting of costs and a lack of systematic monitoring of projects that makes it difficult to establish trends in performance.

Skills shortage

It also says that, at least when the Major Projects Authority (MPA) had responsibility, there was a shortage of ICT skills to draw on in assessing projects. Its significance is indicated by figures on the number and value of projects, with ICT accounting for 40 of the 149 projects in the MPA's portfolio in June and £20 billion of the £511 billion in value. Transformation and service delivery accounted for 55 projects and £175 billion.

Amyas-MorseAmyas Morse (pictured), head of the NAO, said: “I acknowledge 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. “

The IPA has just taken over from the MPA, merging its role with that of Infrastructure UK and reporting jointly to the Chancellor and Minister for the Cabinet Office.

Image from National Audit Office

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