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Wed June 16 2021

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Major projects report raises alarm but highlights progress

27 May 13 Successful delivery of the government’s £33bn flagship HS2 high speed rail project is in doubt, according to the Major Projects Authority.

Amber/Red light status for HS2
Amber/Red light status for HS2

HS2 is just one of 191 government projects assessed in the annual report of the Major Projects Authority (MPA), and one of 23 given Amber/Red status, indicating that “successful delivery of the project is in doubt" and "urgent action is needed". Eight projects were given Red light status

However, far from regarding the MPA’s report as implied criticism, cabinet office minister Francis Maude held it up as an example of progress being made by the government.

“I was staggered when I came into government and found a relaxed approach to managing projects worth hundreds of billions of pounds,” he said. “Problems were swept under the carpet where they festered at the taxpayers’ expense. In many places the Civil Service lacked project management skills and had a lamentable record of project delivery.

“Major projects need scrutiny and support if we are to succeed in the global race. Publishing this report will transform the management of expensive, important projects and will help hold Whitehall to account.”

Mr Maude continued: “Since the general election we have got things back on track and are equipping the civil servants with the skills they need. Our new Major Projects Authority has helped save over £1.7b – that’s £100 per working household. There’s much more to do but thanks to the work of excellent officials we now expect to double the success rate of major projects, compared with the figures from 2010”.

MPA head David Pitchford was also pleased with his work: “I’ve led major projects around the world and I have to say that when I started this job in the UK standards were not great. There have been big changes and Britain is now well on the way to becoming world-class. The Major Projects Authority has real power to intervene in failing projects and stop taxpayers’ money being wasted. Of course it’s just the start, we must keep up the pressure all the time – our annual report will make sure that happens.”

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The MPA annual report notes the failure of government departments to learn from each other’s’ mistakes. The report’s executive summary says: “Our key concern is the operating environment in which projects are managed. Project policy and project delivery have often been disconnected. This means that decisions about what projects are expected to achieve have been made without proper attention to critical planning, resource allocation and governance arrangements. The MPA will develop a standardised portfolio management system which will be rolled out across government. It will set out clear lines of accountability to be applied consistently in all departments.”

Although the Civil Service College has been shut down, the Major Projects Leadership Academy (MPLA) has been set up in conjunction with Oxford University’s Saïd Business School.

“This Academy will generate a cadre of project leaders with levels of skill far beyond those previously held,” Mr Pitchford claimed. “It will also form the foundation for a profession of project leadership within Whitehall that will ensure the best people are applied to the most complex projects. This is a major shift in capability and capacity and will elevate our overall performance exponentially.”

Below: The proportion of projects in each risk category

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