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PAC disappointed by Major Projects Authority’s lack of impact

The Public Accounts Committee is concerned that the newly formed Infrastructure and Projects Authority will weaken project scrutiny and become a “champion for government projects”

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) says it is disappointed at the lack of evidence that the Major Projects Authority has had an impact on government projects.

The committee said in a report that it has supported the authority’s efforts “to improve project delivery” but it was disappointed that, after five years, “we cannot see more tangible signs of what impacts these initiatives have had”.

In January this year, the Major Projects Authority merged with Infrastructure UK in an effort to increase the level of intervention and support to projects. But the PAC said it is worried the merger will weaken the level of scrutiny.

“We are concerned that the merger of the Major Projects Authority and Infrastructure UK risks the new body becoming too much of a champion for government projects, at the expense of its vital role in challenging government performance,” the PAC said.

The PAC report follows a National Audit Office (NAO) report, published in January 2016, which found that one-third of government projects were rated red or amber-red, which meant the successful delivery of the projects was in doubt or unachievable unless action was taken.

The PAC called on the new authority to set out clear milestones towards reporting publicly on how project delivery has improved by January next year.

Meg Hillier, chair of the PAC, said there is “clearly a role” for an independent organisation that can challenge departments about their projects.

“One of our concerns is that this important function is not weakened or undermined following the creation of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority,” she said.

As previously identified by the NAO, the digital skills gap in central government is a cause for concern. The PAC report said the government lacks skills in delivering major projects and that decision-makers do not understand the requirements of “good project delivery”.

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“The civil service faces serious skills shortages in delivering major projects, especially in the commercial and digital skills needed to deliver ‘transformation’ projects,” the report said.

“The Cabinet Office explained that the increasing proportion of transformation projects in the portfolio increases the need for commercial and digital technology skills.

“It said it would have to recruit hundreds of people in the commercial area, and ‘probably thousands’ in the technical area.”

The PAC report called on the Cabinet Office to work out how civil service reform will accommodate the need to hire and retain people with the right skills.

The report added that the Major Projects Authority had identified a failure to set up projects correctly, with “insufficient resources and unrealistic project timetables”, particularly in digital projects. According to the PAC, over-ambition “both in terms of project budgets and timescales” was among the main reasons why projects are at risk.

The Common Agricultural Policy Delivery Programme, e-Borders and Universal Credit projects had all been over-ambitious in their expectations of new technologies,” the report said.

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