MPs quiz former OGC chief about 'cigarette-packet planning' gibe

Peter Gershon, former chief executive of the Office of Government Commerce, has been questioned by MPs about a speech in which he...

Peter Gershon, former chief executive of the Office of Government Commerce, has been questioned by MPs about a speech in which he said that project planning in government is sometimes "little better than something on the back of a cigarette packet".

Gershon's speech could help to explain why central government has a notorious history of failure in delivering major IT projects.

Speaking to civil servants who practise programme and project management, Gershon said the discovery about poor planning was made during Gateway reviews, in which experts conduct independent assessments of risky government IT and construction projects.

Gershon said in his speech, "There are still far too many projects reviewed by Gateway teams where, frankly, project planning is little better than something on the back of a cigarette packet."

The remarks were made last year and went unnoticed until followed up by Richard Bacon, an MP on the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee. Bacon highlighted the speech when Gershon appeared before the committee last month.

Gershon gave no specific answer on the topic of planning projects on the back of a cigarette packet.

A spokesman for the Office of Government Commerce said that when Gershon made his speech mentioning the back of a cigarette packet he was "referring to the state of certain projects which Gateway review teams had encountered up to that time".

The spokesman declined to say whether, since the speech, Gateway review teams have continued to encounter projects that have reinforced Gershon's concerns.

"The evidence is that government project performance is improving," said the spokesman.

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