More than half of government projects behind schedule

More than half of major government projects are behind schedule, according to the head of Whitehall's Major Projects Authority.

More than half of major government projects are behind schedule, according to the head of Whitehall's Major Projects Authority (MPA).

The MPA was created in April 2011 to help improve central government’s capability in delivering projects successfully.

The agency has identified 206 major government projects, worth a total £480bn in lifetime costs. David Pitchford, executive director of the MPA, said all the projects under review could be classed as IT projects, with technology acting as a key enabler.

“Indicators suggest that less than half are being delivered effectively, on time and on budget,” said Pitchford .

The news comes as the government launches its Major Projects Leadership Academy, intended to train senior civil servants in the skills needed to become senior responsible owners of government projects.

The academy cost £6.7m to set up and run for the first year, after which the cost of participation will be met by departments. Along with leadership skills, technical awareness will be a key part of the training course so that leaders will be able to understand when a project is off track, said Pitchford.

“Over the last 25 years capability has been outsourced - the fundamental problem with outsourcing is that we don’t have the leadership in Whitehall.  [At the end] consultants walk away with the money and knowledge leaving the government with neither,”  he said.

Pitchford said he hoped the academy would raise success rate of projects from 45% to 80% over the next five years. “The gains for the taxpayer are significant,” he said. It is also hoped the academy will lead to a significant reduction in consultancy spend.

Bob Kerslake, head of the Civil Service, said: “The thing that marks the academy out is that it is consciously Whitehall-wide. It will be a mandatory requirement in due course and targeted at those who lead projects,” he said. “This is a powerful initiative that will achieve significant improvements.”

Kerslake added: “On IT we have been on record as saying there has been a tendency to go to the bigger ambitious projects. The evidence is that there is more headway if you break them down and move to more manageable chunks. That is particularly true of IT but it is also more widely true. “

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said: "This is an important step in our plans to reform the Civil Service – we want to build world-class project leadership skills within government. Starting with our current leaders, we will develop a generation of professionals that are internationally recognised for their skill and expertise.”

The first 250-350 public sector leaders will graduate from the academy in three-to-five years. The training will last for one year, with a two-year development plan which will include placements in the public and private sector. Each department will nominate candidates it believes to be suitable for training.

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