Major projects report 2019: how government is transforming services

Written by Civil Service World on 20 September 2019 in Feature
Feature

All this week, CSW brings you a snapshot of progress on the Government Major Project Portfolio across four categories: military capability, ICT, infrastructure and construction, and transformation and service delivery. The final section looks at some of Britain’s biggest service transformation projects

Sellafield Photo: PA

Transformation and service delivery

43 projects, £84bn whole life cost

1 Red | 13 Amber/Red | 20 Amber | 7 Amber/Green | 2 Green

Covering projects as diverse as the implementation of the 30 hours free childcare programme from the Department for Education to the development of the new national proton beam therapy service being led by the Department of Health and Social Care, this category includes projects to improve how public services are delivered. As a result, it is the biggest category in the major projects portfolio in terms of number of projects – 43 – but only £84bn of the £442bn whole life projects across the portfolio.

The number of projects in the category has dramatically decreased in recent years, down from a peak of 80 projects under the heading in 2015. In the 2019 review, the area had one red project, the same as the three other areas – military capability, ICT, infrastructure and construction – but also had the most amber/red projects in absolute terms, although in a similar proportion to the others.

Compared to 2018, the portfolio had one more red project, and an unchanged number of amber-red rated schemes. The number of amber projects was down four to 20 schemes, but rhere was also an improvement in the number of schemes rated amber-green (seven, up from four) and it had two fully green rated projects, compared to none last year.

Sellafield Model change | Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy | Whole life cost £30m

Rated Green

The aim of this project was to create a more efficient management model for Sellafield, Western Europe’s largest nuclear complex. In 2015, following an in-depth review of the Cumbrian site’s management model by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) – an arm’s length body under BEIS responsible for 17 nuclear sites across the UK – the government agreed that from 1 April, 2016, Sellafield’s ownership would be transferred from its private sector parent body organisation (PBO), Nuclear Management Partners, to the NDA, where it would be a wholly-owned subsidiary. According to a 2016 government publication explaining the model change, “the enormity of the Sellafield challenge is such that it demands a relentless focus on the long-term clean-up mission and improved performance. Although the previous model brought some progress, the pace of progress needed to accelerate and be delivered more efficiently.”

The programme was led by representatives from BEIS, the IPA and the Cabinet Office, with a whole-life cost of just over £30m. A Senior Civil Service review determined the model change achieved its objectives and the IPA has removed it from the Government Major Projects Portfolio. Now that Sellafield is no longer owned by a PBO, it can work more freely with the private sector to procure services on a bespoke basis. In a briefing note, the NDA explained that “in simple terms, the private sector becomes a supplier to [Sellafield] rather than a parent of it.” The transformation has so far improved mission delivery and aims to address future challenges like maintaining a pipeline of skills. A commitment to save £1.4bn over 14 years is currently ahead of schedule.

The programme to change Sellafield’s management model was just one step in the nuclear site’s wider decommissioning efforts. The Public Accounts Committee has raised concerns about other major projects at Sellafield that have been significantly delayed or have overrun their costs, and concluded late last year that it remains sceptical about the NDA’s long-term strategy to decommission Sellafield.

Still, the transformation programme has been a success and the NDA is already replicating it across other nuclear sites. Starting this month, Magnox Limited, which was contracted to manage 12 nuclear sites and a hydroelectric plant, will become a subsidiary of the NDA. David Peattie, NDA’s chief executive, has said the Magnox programme is consistent with the change made at Sellafield, “where the simplified approach is resulting in more efficient decommissioning progress.” Geoff Lyons

T-Levels | Department for Education | Whole life cost £146.2m

Rated Amber/Red

The Department for Education began work to develop its newest post-16 technical qualification in October 2016. The first three T-Level courses – equivalent to A-Levels and designed to increase access to technical education – will begin in September 2020, with a phased national rollout leading up to mainstream availability in December 2023. They will include both classroom study and an industrial placement.

The programme’s amber/red rating is  down to “complexity and interdependency of the programme on internal and external factors”, according to DfE’s submission to the IPA. Hurdles include teacher training, the availability of industry placements, and whether funding is sufficient to convince providers to offer the qualifications.

DfE has long known the programme’s timetable is challenging. It originally planned to introduce the first qualifications in September 2019, but pushed the deadline back after “extensive testing” of the delivery plans in 2017.

In May 2018, DfE permanent secretary Jonathan Slater obtained a ministerial direction to maintain the “very challenging” 2020 deadline from then-education secretary Damian Hinds, who turned down Slater’s suggestion to delay it to 2021.

An SRO appointment letter to director of professional and technical education Jennifer Coupland this April said “the risk appetite has been set higher than the department’s usual risk appetite, in line with the [education secretary’s] direction”. Contingency plans were needed to mitigate the “feasibility and consequential value for money risks that the timetable will not be achievable”, it added.

The department said a “very significant amount of effort applied to maintaining the delivery schedule” had enabled it to meet its milestones so far. These include the first two of the programme’s “go/no go points”: launching initial teacher training for the development of first qualifications, and giving contracts to the awarding bodies Pearson and NCFE to develop the first three T-Levels.

It is also on track to meet its February 2020 milestone of approving the first three qualifications.

And in June, DfE published its response to a consultation it launched last year on T-Level funding. It also announced the second wave of providers, who will offer courses from 2021 – bringing the total to more than 100, between them teaching 10 T-Levels. It also confirmed provider funding levels and said it would grow the provider funding pot by £500m a year once the qualifications are fully rolled out.

However, the Treasury has not yet allocated capital funding to the programme beyond the end of 2019-20. DfE highlighted funding as a challenge in its submission to the IPA, with a decision expected in the Spending Round. Beckie Smith

Transforming compliance | Ministry of Justice | Whole life cost £123m

Rated Red

After a two-year stint in the Government Major Project Portfolio, one of the Ministry of Justice’s major reform programmes is set to exit at the end of this year following its cancellation due to lack of funds.

The Transforming Compliance Enforcement Programme was created in 2015 in an effort to improve the outdated, and mostly manual, system for enforcing criminal fines through increased automation, while also using the reduction of the size of the Ministry of Justice court estate to reduce running costs.

However, when the project was mature enough to join the GMPP for the 2018 annual report, it was already beginning to struggle. Although MoJ claimed in 2018 that the programme would bring “full transformational change delivering significant benefits through increased effectiveness in fine recovery and increased efficiency”, it also revealed that the programme had been “re-baselined” in January 2018 due to delays caused by pre-election purdah in 2017. This delayed the signing of a contract for its debt management system, while the project also faced “unforeseen procurement complexities” on its finance and accounting elements.

One year on, the rating had been downgraded from amber/red to red to reflect the fact that the programme has been cancelled.

The MoJ announced last September that the programme was being suspended as the “plans are no longer affordable within the Ministry of Justice’s funding allocation for the 2015 Spending Review period”.

In its submission to the IPA’s 2019 annual report, which is based on September 2018 data, the MoJ said that the cancellation was due to “affordability of the wider department” and it was “currently performing close down activities and will be submitting a programme closure report in April 2019 to IPA”.

The MoJ confirmed to CSW that the shutdown report had been submitted to the projects agency.

But the scheme did help to develop new ways of working, “including better enforcement strategies and administration” that will continue to be used. These include making sure compliance is intelligence-led and tailoring plans suit individual circumstances. Since the inception of the programme in 2016, such approaches have helped recover more than £37m of fines that were previously considered uncollectable, according to HM Courts and Tribunals Service. The department also highlighted that the reforms had led HMCTS to work with banks and suppliers to find new payment methods, such as the use of smart phone technology to encourage more offenders to pay fines.

In a further freedom of information response last October, the MoJ said that “limited work will continue to ensure [the programme] is ready should it be required in the future”, and the department said that it could be restarted if budget allows. Richard Johnstone

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