In a special report looking at the Government Major Projects Portfolio, CSW brings you a snapshot of progress across four categories: infrastructure and construction, transformation and service delivery, information and communications technology, and military capability. This first section looks at three transformation and service delivery across government


41 projects | £83bn whole life cost

13 Amber/Red | 24 Amber | 4 Amber/Green

The transformation category is the largest by number, but the projects have a relatively small average cost so it’s the third largest group by whole life cost. Ranging from digital service reform projects such as the courts transformation programme to major policy implementations such as the DWP Work and Health programme, many of these projects have shorter life-spans than those in other categories – most have been in the GMPP for fewer than three years.

For the first time since 2014 there are no red rating projects in the category.

Project case studies

HM Courts & Tribunals Reform | Ministry of Justice | Whole life cost £1.6bn

Rated Amber/Red

The HM Courts and Tribunal Service reform programme is very ambitious and has “no room for complacency”, says an HMCTS spokesperson. The programme to digitise the UK’s access to justice is scheduled to deliver at a scale and pace that the Public Accounts Committee said “no other country has attempted” before.

That said, its delivery confidence rating has improved from amber/red to amber since the period covered by the IPA annual report, which the service puts down to structural and process changes, including in change management and governance, allowing for better alignment of all the reforms being introduced. After a piloting and testing phase, the programme has moved into its second phase, which has involved launching new services such as digital divorce applications – which 10,000 people have used with satisfaction rates at 85% – and a civil money claims service.

Over the next year milestones will include opening the first two courts and tribunals service centres in Stoke and Birmingham, which will each employ 300 people to process cases, issue court orders and answer enquiries, as well as further piloting of video hearings and finalising the future estates strategy. A major piece of work currently underway is the integration of the Common Platform Programme (a shared system for practitioners in criminal justice) into a new Crime Programme – which HMCTS describes as “the most challenging aspect of reform” because its complex and involves “a lot of interrelated decisions involving multiple partners”.

The agency identifies two further main risks to the programme: first, ensuring benefits are delivered at an effective pace, which “means testing new processes in real time, satisfying ourselves that they work and understanding [their] implications”; and second, the wider uncertainties that are beyond HMCTS control, such as changes to the property market or pressures on the family law and immigration and asylum systems. The PAC was also critical of the level of stakeholder engagement: a HMCTS spokesperson says it has involved a range of groups in the co-design of reform projects and plans to increase activity to improve communications with legal professionals and the public in the coming months.

The IPA has supported HMCTS in putting together a business case for the next round of Treasury funding and has helped them contact teams in other departments solving similar problems, including HS2, HMRC and DWP.

Census and data collection transformation programme | Office for National Statistics | Whole life cost £901m

Rated Amber

It’s no surprise that the census, “one of the biggest mobilisations across the country”, has received an amber risk-rating from the Infrastructure and Projects Authority for two years running, says Frankie Kay of the Office for National Statistics.

Kay, director of transformation, population and public policy, has confidence in the 2021 census and data collection programme, but says “it’s big and it’s complex” and it may well stay amber a while longer.

Until late 2017 there were two transformation programmes – one for the census and another covering data collection – which were combined to help the team build more of a legacy from census investment, Kay says. The eventual goal is to reduce reliance on large-scale surveys, and rebalance ONS data collection towards greater use of other sources including administrative data like council tax records and school admission statistics. Following this work, in 2023 the national statistician will advise on whether we need a 2031 census.

The project, which will deliver an online-first census for the first time, is currently in “rehearsal” phase. After testing its electronic questionnaire and a subset of census questions last year, the ONS plans to conduct a larger scale rehearsal towards the end of 2019 involving all its suppliers – probably about 12. Contracts – for running the contact centre or providing digital assistance services, for example – will be let in the autumn. Kay says the team also tests against various doomsday scenarios – “what if there’s a cyber-attack, what if foot and mouth raises its head?” – and may rehearse, in early 2020, how to process and disseminate all the data.

Some challenges outlined by the IPA have been acted on, such as ensuring consistency across the office by joining up the two programmes – “but that then takes a bit of time in terms of bedding in”, Kay says. Building capability is an ongoing challenge, particularly in project delivery and digital services but also for service integration. That’s something the ONS only really does for the census, so it plans to work with an external partner to avoid building capacity in-house that will soon be redundant.

One particularly interesting challenge “in today’s climate”, Kay says, is ensuring “respondents trust us to keep their data safe [and] understand the value of the census”. The communications strategy will be vital here, while the ONS has a small behavioural insights team looking at nudge techniques and is working closely with councils and local communities to make sure it’s a “really inclusive census”.

Automatic Enrolment Programme | Department for Work and Pensions | Total whole life cost £1.25bn

Rated Amber/Green

The Automatic Enrolment Programme aims to get more people saving more for their retirement – and with six months until it is due to end, it looks like it will surpass its original targets. The most recent programme evaluation estimated that by April 2019 there would be an extra 10 million people saving into pensions as a result of the scheme, and their combined savings would be worth £20bn a year, compared to a target of  six to nine million people saving £8bn a year.

The programme began in 2007, though the policy traces its roots back to the 2005 Pension Commission which gave the project a “really good blueprint”, according to Charlotte Clark, director private pensions and arm’s-length bodies relationships at DWP. “The commission spent a lot of time really thinking about the problem, but perhaps even more importantly, building a consensus around what the issues were, which gave us a very clear framework”.

From that framework the team built a “robust plan”, she says, through strong debate and cautious assumptions. “Famously as a programme we outperform all of our objectives,” she says. “That’s because there was absolutely no optimism in any of our assumptions.”

The robust early discussions mean that there is now a strong relationship between the three key delivery partners – DWP, the Pensions Regulator and the government-owned pensions provider NEST.  The team also has some very experienced members. Clark spent four years as head of auto enrolment from 2005 to 2009, returning to the programme in 2014 after a stint at the Treasury. She describes auto enrolment as a ‘boomerang project’ since many other members of the team have similar CVs, including programme director Fiona Walker who also headed auto enrolment from 2010 to 2013 and returned to the programme after a year at the Money Advice Service.

Clark remembers early stages of project reviews through the Major Projects Review Group. “I think those early reviews honestly felt like somebody was coming to check our homework and tell us we weren’t doing a very good job.” Now, she says that the IPA reviews are more focused on providing external support to help the team with areas that it is worried about, which she describes as “a very positive move”.

The project’s current amber/green rating reflects the fact that its final roll-out stage, to small and micro employers – is the most challenging and had most uncertainty.

“We don’t want to take your eye off the ball… we want to finish the programme well as we started it,” says Clark.

Read more on the development of auto enrolment here

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