'Major projects can boost growth, but picking the right ones isn't simple': IPA boss Nick Smallwood reflects on 2022

The Infrastructure and Projects Authority chief exec lauds successes like the Birmingham Commonwealth Games and discusses the importance of supporting teams that have been affected by Covid-19 and the cost-of-living crisis
The Birmingham Commonwealth Games was a "fundamental example of how the IPA is delivering impactful projects and thriving regions". Photo: thecrofter/Alamy Stock Photo

By Civil Service World

15 Dec 2022


What has been your highlight of the last 12 months?  

The Infrastructure and Project Authority has continued to focus on the critical work being done to progress, support and provide assurance on our major projects. We were able to celebrate this during the launch event for the IPA Annual Report 21-2022, one of my highlights from the past 12 months. This was the first time in three years that our government project delivery community were able to meet in person and celebrate the successes from the past year of the projects and programmes we work on.  

The event also included a panel of leaders from some of the largest, innovative and most exciting projects and programmes over the past year. One of which being the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, a fundamental example of how the IPA is delivering impactful projects and thriving regions.  

I am also incredibly proud to say that this year we have successfully launched our Government Projects Academy and released the first workbooks for our brand-new Government Project Delivery Framework. All of which can be accessed on the brand new Project Delivery Hub.   

What was your most difficult decision in 2022?  

At a time when project delivery is critical, one of my most difficult decisions in 2022 has been having to prioritise which projects we could actively support and which we simply could not. Setting projects up for success from the beginning is crucial, so selecting the right projects with the potential to boost economic growth and create positive societal changes for UK citizens is not a simple task. 

“I was duty manager on a refinery in South Africa on Christmas day many years ago and returned home in 40-degree heat to barbecue the turkey!” 

What is the biggest challenge facing your organisation in 2023, and how will you meet that challenge as an organisation?  

Economic recovery across the UK must take priority in 2023 and major projects and programmes can make a valuable contribution in encouraging growth, national renewal and greater productivity. That is why the Transforming Infrastructure Performance: Roadmap to 2030 is so crucial to embed within major projects and programmes. It sets out the transformation required to achieve our ambitions and details how government and industry will collaborate to achieve this vision, together. By embedding critical thinking around how we embrace net zero, modern construction processes and new technologies, project outcomes will be fit for our ever-changing world and it will reduce overall costs at a time when it is really needed.  

And personally, as a leader?  

A project can’t be delivered by just one person and it is important to keep motivating and supporting high performing teams that have of course been affected by Covid-19 restrictions and the cost-of-living crisis. While there are challenges ahead, there is no doubt in my mind that we are moving forwards. I want to ensure that in 2023 we continue to develop and support people and ensure they acquire the skills and knowledge to develop and progress.

It's not only Santa who has to work at Christmas. What is your best, worst or weirdest experience of working in the festive season?   

I was duty manager on a refinery in South Africa on Christmas day many years ago and returned home in 40-degree heat to barbecue the turkey! A few years later, I managed the same trick in Canada at -25 degrees.  

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