That’s one of the conclusions of a highly critical Public Accounts Committee report, out today, into the work of the Major Projects Authority (MPA).
"There remain serious weaknesses in government’s project delivery capability,” said committee chair Margaret Hodge. “We welcome the creation of the Major Projects Leadership Academy, but the MPA needs to target top decision-makers as well as managers. This should include ministers, shadow ministers and permanent secretaries.”
Two ministers have attended half-day or full-day courses on project management run by the MPA and found it helpful, the report notes. “It would be beneficial to extend this support more widely, as it would help to develop greater awareness of project delivery issues at the highest decision-making levels in government.”
The report also says that there needs to be better planning at the outset of projects and greater transparency in decision making.
The MPA was established in March 2011 as a partnership between the Cabinet Office and the Treasury to improve project delivery across government.
In September 2013, the Government Major Projects Portfolio consisted of 199 major projects covering a wide range of activities, from transforming how departments do their work to building ships and motorways. These projects represent a considerable and rising cost to the taxpayer: the MPA reported in May 2014 that the whole-life cost of these projects was £488bn, an increase of some £134bn on the previous year.
Mrs Hodge said: "We support the work of the Major Projects Authority and welcome the progress it has made so far, but without stronger powers it is unlikely to achieve its aim of a systemic improvement in project delivery across government.”
The report says: The MPA is unlikely to achieve a systemic improvement in project management without stronger, more formal mechanisms for driving change. At present, the Treasury does take account of MPA recommendations when making spending decisions, but it is under no formal obligation to follow them. Equally, the MPA often has to rely on personal credibility and informal influence, rather than having formal mechanisms, to get its voice heard in its work with departments. For example, the MPA is helping with recruitment for leadership positions on several major projects, but only on an ad hoc basis and told us that its role is not yet ‘systematised’. This lack of formal powers reduces the influence of the MPA with the Treasury and with departments, limiting its ability to drive improvements in project management.”
It recommends that the chief executive of the MPA should have a formal mechanism available to set out his or her position if politicians over-rule. “Where ministers or officials reject MPA recommendations, there should be a formal and transparent process in place to document this.”
More controversially, the committee calls for more Treasury control over major projects. “The Treasury should take ownership and responsibility for overseeing the government portfolio,” the committee suggests. “It should ensure that decisions about whether, and how, individual projects should proceed are based on each project’s impact on the total portfolio’s value and risk, and the relevant department’s delivery capability and existing portfolio of projects.”
The full report, Public Accounts Committee – 10th Report: Major Projects Authority, can be downloaded at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmpubacc/147/14702.htm