A third of major public sector projects may be ‘unachievable’, says NAO

A third of major public sector projects due to be finished by the end of this Parliament may be ‘unachievable’, according to a report from the National Audit Office (NAO).

The NAO examined the 149 projects currently in the Government Major Project Portfolio and found that a significant chunk were classified as either ‘red’ or ‘amber-red’, meaning successful delivery is either unachievable or doubtful unless action is taken.

Across the 106 major projects due to be completed in the next five years, 37 were rated red or amber-red. The report suggests that this in part due to more risky projects entering the Portfolio, however, of the 56 these that had remained on the portfolio from 2012 to 2015, 17 had red or amber-red ratings in June 2015 compared with 12 in 2012.

The NAO noted that the ‘public sector has had a poor track record in delivering projects successfully’. Key recurring issues highlighted in the report include: an absence of portfolio management at both departmental and government level; lack of clear, consistent data with which to measure performance; poor early planning; lack of capacity and capability to undertake a growing number of projects; and a lack of clear accountability for leadership of a project.

Amyas Morse, NAO head, 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.”

Responding to the report, 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 (IPA) – 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 Infrastructure and Projects Authority, 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.”