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Government’s “perennial inability to manage and deliver projects on time and budget” must be addressed to navigate through end of pandemic and beyond

29 January 2021

In its March 2020 budget the Government set out an ambitious plan for £600 billion of gross public investment over the next five years, accompanied by efforts to accelerate the delivery of major programmes and better target investment to support the levelling up agenda and Government’s commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

But in a report published today the Public Accounts Committee reiterates the concerns that crop up “time and time again” in Government delivery of major projects like High Speed Two, the Emergency Services Network, and Universal Credit - such as “programmes not keeping to cost or schedule, a lack of transparency in their progress, and weaknesses in leadership and governance”.

The Committee is concerned now about “the value for money risks resulting from the significant increase in investment, speed of delivery and changes to how government makes investment decisions” and that “the calibre and number of people in leadership positions in major projects is still not strong enough”.

The Committee is also concerned about the “continued lack of transparency to Parliament about the progress of government projects. The Committee has examined many programmes where issues were emerging for some time that only became public knowledge much later”. The report cites the case where the PAC was kept in the dark for over a year before being told about the difficulties on the High Speed Two programme: following that, the HS2 programme now reports to Parliament every six months.

The Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) is government’s centre of expertise for major project delivery, and the Committee is supportive of the IPA’s plans to strengthen assurance and capability within government. However, it is not certain that the IPA will be able to make use of its authority and influence to drive the change required throughout government.

Chair's comments

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“The government’s perennial inability to manage and deliver projects on time and budget must be addressed if the country is to safely navigate through to the end of the pandemic and beyond. The challenges of the pandemic have shown what can be achieved by government in short order – and how badly it can fail.

“We have made too many reports, covering billions and billions of pounds of taxpayers money wasted by cost and timetable overruns, or on projects ‘parked’ or abandoned after sinking massive resources for years. We want to see lasting improvements made to the way in which government delivers major projects - it will not be acceptable to keep seeing past problems repeated.”

Further information

Image:  PA