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Third of major Government projects 'risk failure over targets'

Published 06/01/2016

Auditor General Amyas Morse raised concern over the figures
Auditor General Amyas Morse raised concern over the figures

Around a third of major Government projects due to be delivered over the next few years are at risk of failure to meet targets on budgets and timetables, Whitehall's spending watchdog has warned.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said it was "of particular concern" that the list of projects rated red or amber-red - meaning their successful delivery is either "unachievable" or "in doubt" - included 37 of the 106 due to be concluded within five years.

The overall proportion rated red or amber-red by the Government's Infrastructure and Projects Authority increased from 16% in 2012 to 34% in June 2015, due to the addition of more risky schemes to a portfolio totalling 149 major projects with a combined whole-life cost of £511 billion, said the NAO.

High-profile programmes like the introduction of Universal Credit, the HS2 rail line, smart meters and the Hinckley Point nuclear power station are included in the portfolio.

But the IPA does not make the current colour ratings of individual projects and it is not known which are causing concern at present.

The NAO said that the public sector had a "poor record on delivering projects successfully" and added that progress in improving the management of the portfolio was "disappointing" with no single organisation having a view of the whole array of schemes.

The watchdog raised concerns over the rapid turnover of senior staff responsible for running big projects. Only four of the 73 programmes which have been under way for four years have been overseen by the same Senior Responsible Owner (SRO) during that time, the report noted.

It also warned of a "worrying" shortages of vital skills in areas such as risk management and behaviour change.

"An effective mechanism still needs to be developed for prioritising projects across government or judging whether individual departments have the capacity and capability to deliver them," said the watchdog.

"The NAO has often reported on the difficulties caused for government projects by unrealistic expectations and over-optimism."

Auditor general Amyas Morse said: "I acknowledge that a number of positive steps have been taken by the Authority and client departments.

"At the same time, I am concerned that a third of projects monitored by the Authority are red or amber-red and the overall picture of progress on project performance is opaque. More effort is needed if the success rate of project delivery is to improve."

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "This Government is committed to improving the way major projects are run.

"That is why we set up the Infrastructure and Projects Authority - to save taxpayers' money and improve public services.

"This is helping achieve over £3 billion of savings in 2014-15 alone.

"We will continue to drive for improved performance through the IPA which will be a single centre of expertise for project development, financing, assurance and support in government.

"We value the NAO's recommendations and will consider how the IPA can best take these forward."

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