Monitoring of the UK’s biggest and riskiest projects has improved, but more needs to be done to increase transparency to ensure taxpayers get maximum value, according to a report by the National Audit Office (NAO)
The Government Major Projects Portfolio (the Portfolio) was created by the Authority in 2011 to improve government’s delivery of major projects, which are often large scale, novel and delivered by multiple stakeholders. As of September 2017, the Portfolio consisted of 133 projects with a total budgeted cost of £420bn and over £650bn of planned benefits.
Of the 48 projects that the NAO has closely reviewed, 12 achieved their intended outcomes. However, for 22 projects it was not possible to determine if this was the case. For some projects this was because they were still being rolled out and it was too early to tell, but in other cases projects did not have a business case with intended outcomes to measure against.
The NAO recommends that all major projects have a business case that is kept up to date to reflect any changes. HM Treasury and the Infrastructure & Projects Authority (IPA) should work together to deliver the intended benefits, keep costs within budget and select the right projects for future funding.
In 2016 the Authority introduced a process for deciding when projects should leave the Portfolio, addressing concerns raised by the NAO and the Committee of Public Accounts in 2016. Although it has increased transparency about whether projects have delivered their objectives, this is not happening consistently, meaning the government can’t be sure projects are leaving when they should.
The NAO has raised concerns about whether accountability is watered down at the point at which projects leave the Portfolio. For example, some projects delivered by a third party and which have a limited departmental role have been removed from the Portfolio before they have completed, such as the project to enable investment in the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, which left when the department responsible identified investors and signed a construction contract. Despite this, the department remains the project sponsor, responsible for continuing oversight of the developer and has risks to manage.
Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO, said: “The Infrastructure and Projects Authority is clearly contributing much-needed project management and evaluation techniques to the mammoth programme of major projects run by government. We believe it could drive greater improvement if it adopted a clearer method of measuring the benefits of these projects, and tougher discipline over the terms on which projects are included, or more to the point, excluded from its oversight.”