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All eyes on major government projects

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All eyes on major Government projects in 2017

One year has passed since the National Audit Office’s (NAO) report “Delivering major projects in Government” which highlighted the challenges faced by government projects caused by “unrealistic expectations and over-optimism” and the “need to balance ambition and realism when setting goals”.

A week into the New Year and development announcements from government dominated the national press, triggering the question; have any of the NAO 2016 report findings been applied or learnt as yet when it comes to the delivery of major projects?

On 3 January 2017, Housing Minister Gavin Barwell announced sites for 17 new garden villages and towns in a bid to reach the government’s commitment to build 200,000 new homes per year by 2020.

While in the MOD’s New Year’s Day announcement titled “2017 is the Year of the Navy,” Michael Fallon commented “We are investing billions in growing the Royal Navy for the first time in a generation with new aircraft carriers, submarines, frigates, patrol vessels and aircraft all on their way.”

And we haven’t even mentioned Brexit yet.

The dispatch of recent headline-grabbing press releases adds to the 720-odd projects and programmes outlined by the National Infrastructure Commission and raises the question as to whether government policy development has addressed the issues highlighted in the NAO report relating to front-loaded planning and effective project delivery:

The report mentioned that “key recurring issues included 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.”

According to the NAO report nearly 80 per cent of the projects due to be delivered by 2019-20 are intended to either transform or change the way that services are delivered or accessed. As transformation programmes can present the greatest risk of failure so there is a need to balance ambition and realism in setting goals and ensure that the planning, leadership and overall portfolio management are sound.

The NAO made clear the benefits of front-loaded planning and portfolio integration in 2016.  The question is, has the Government listened and learnt?

Read a follow-up interview with Geraldine Barker, NAO director, from Project journal, Summer 2016.

Read Geraldine Barker's blog on the NAO report, January 2016.


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  1. Scott Harberd
    Scott Harberd 26 January 2017, 03:03 PM

    Great article. I have to say from my 18 months working on a Central Government transformation programme there are many areas where improvements such as efficiencies and savings could be made. Some were simple, and some a little more complex. However, the difficulty in making any recommendations is that changing peoples working practices, with what is felt to be a practice and does not need changing is an uphill struggle. I went into this programme from the private sector, so it was a baptism of fire when i first joined, which after the initial few weeks of frustration of speed, you begin to accept you can not change the world. Focus on the areas you can control.