Assurance for major projects - Public Accounts Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  Departments' compliance with the Authority's procedures for assuring major projects is too variable. While some departments, such as the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Work and Pensions, are using assurance arrangements supported by the Authority, such as Integrated Assurance and Approval Plans (IAAPs), to help them manage their projects, others appear not to accept the benefits of doing so. Departments should ensure that prioritizing the successful delivery of projects and compliance with the Authority's assurance arrangements, such as IAAPs, is a formal part of the objectives of Senior Responsible Owners and Accounting Officers.

2.  A stronger link is needed between the results of the Authority's assurance reviews and the spending decisions made by HM Treasury. The Committee has long been concerned that warning signs of impending project failure are ignored by government. Under the new arrangements, the Authority's assurance reviews should be considered by HM Treasury as part of their funding approval decisions, but there is limited evidence of the results of these reviews influencing Treasury's decisions to halt or to reset projects. The Authority's reviews should clearly set out whether the project should continue, be stopped or reset, and HM Treasury should ensure the recommendation is adhered to.

3.  HM Treasury is not making best use of the data on major projects that is now available to manage the government's financial position. We welcome HM Treasury's acknowledgement that it could make more use of the good quality data collected by the Authority on the major projects portfolio to identify and understand how underspending or overspending within individual projects may impact future spending across government. HM Treasury should routinely use the Authority's data on the major projects portfolio to manage its spending and prioritise resources between projects.

4.  The Authority has much more work but far fewer resources than the part of the Office of Government Commerce it replaced. The creation of the Authority is a very welcome development. With a budget of £6 million and a 40% cut in staffing there are inevitably questions over whether it can achieve the improvements intended. Inevitably, the Authority has to focus on the biggest, most risky projects. This raises the risk that significant problems within lower priority projects in the Authority's portfolio may be missed. The Authority and HM Treasury should quantify the return on investment from the Authority's work to identify whether further investment would benefit the taxpayer.

5.  The Authority's Major Projects Leadership Academy is a welcome step forward in strengthening the project management skills of civil servants, but retaining and making best use of those trained will be a challenge. The Committee supports both the launch of the Academy and the proposed requirement for all Senior Responsible Owners to have to attend it, as means of addressing longstanding concerns about the quality of project delivery skills within government. The Executive Director of the Authority (as head of the government's project and programme profession) should be responsible for co-ordinating the career planning and deployment of staff with relevant project management skills across government, and particularly those graduating from the Leadership Academy, to minimise staff losses in this area.

6.  The Authority has failed to make progress on publishing project status information. While this information is being reported internally to departments, the Government has yet to determine its policy on making data available publicly and we are still waiting for the Authority's seriously overdue annual report on major projects. Considerations of commercial confidentiality should not be allowed to frustrate proper accountability. They should not be used as an excuse to override the responsibilities of departmental officials to be held to account for the progress of their projects. The Committee expects the complete and transparent disclosure of information on project status, including the current delivery confidence rating, with immediate effect, and will expect to receive annual updates on the performance of projects in the Authority's portfolio.

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© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 16 October 2012