Government expects to spend hundreds of billions of pounds across its largest, most innovative and riskiest major programmes, addressing infrastructure projects, public service transformations and IT systems. Given the huge financial cost and importance of major programmes to government achieving wide-ranging outcomes for taxpayers, no-one wants to see these major programmes fail. The length of many programmes, the environment within which they deliver and the challenges of managing programmes mean it is inevitable that some will need to be changed significantly (referred to as resetting) to deliver their benefits. Some changes are avoidable, including through investing in early planning, but sometimes factors cannot be controlled. As such, senior decision-makers will inevitably need to make, at the right time, critical but important decisions on whether a programme can still deliver the intended outcomes or if it needs to change significantly, and be reset, or even be stopped.
A programme reset provides a valuable framework to make these significant and necessary changes. Yet there is no standard definition across government for what constitutes a reset and no specific guidance on how to carry one out. We have seen how successful resets can help programme decision-makers determine a way forward and get a programme back on track. However, they can be hard to get right, particularly as they are often rushed. This Committee has seen some programmes, including the Ajax programme and Crossrail, having to be reset multiple times.
Although ministerial turnover, political imperatives and public expectations can make resets hard to accept and undertake, government must get better at recognising the value of resets and learning from its experiences. It needs to encourage an environment conducive to constructive challenge and openness, and establish the right skills and leadership for a reset. There is clear scope for the Infrastructure and Projects Authority and HM Treasury, who scrutinise and approve major programmes, to provide decision makers with better support and guidance to make this happen.