Government Major Projects Portfolio grows for third year running

Red-rated schemes reduce as overall number of projects increases
An Ajax armoured vehicle. One of the government's dogged projects which moved from red to amber-rated this year. Photo: Associated Press/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

27 Jul 2023

The Government Major Projects Portfolio has grown for the third year running but has fewer red-rated schemes than a year ago.

There are now 244 projects in the portfolio, up from 235 last year, while the number of red-rated projects – where delivery appears unachievable – has dropped from 27 to 23, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority’s latest annual report shows.

The now decade-old GMPP – run by the IPA, a joint Treasury and Cabinet Office agency – brings together the government's most ambitious, costly and, often, high-risk schemes. The IPA provides extra support to departments in delivering these programmes and assesses confidence in delivery through a red/amber/green rating system.

Red-rated projects now represent 9% of the portfolio compared to 11% the year before, with programmes moving from red to amber including the controversial delivery of Ajax armoured vehicles which have recently overcome issues. The cost associated with red projects has, however, risen from £62.5bn to £94bn in the last year, according to the 2022-23 report.

Projects in the infrastructure and construction category are particularly hard-hit, and now represent 70% of the cost of red-rated projects. The report said economic pressures in the category had been “impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, which have caused high inflation, reduced affordability and bruised market confidence”.

There are 26 green projects in the latest portfolio, compared to 24 in 2021-22, which means there are now more programmes where successful delivery is considered highly likely than those where is is considered unachievable. The 26 green-rated projects represent 11% of the portfolio compared to 10% a year ago.

Amber-rated projects – those where successful delivery appears feasible but significant issues need addressing – are also a bigger share of this year’s portfolio, up from 170 to 183. They now represent 75% of the portfolio compared to 72% in 2021-22.

The report also reveals 13% of projects which were in the portfolio last year have improved, while 10% have regressed, and 55% have stayed at the same rating.

Jeremy Quin, the minister for the Cabinet Office, said last week in a speech on civil service reform that the increase in the number of green and amber-rated projects, shows “better project management” which is helping to deliver “the foundation to improve our productivity and enhance our public services”.

IPA chief Nick Smallwood, meanwhile, has praised the number of projects leaving with a green or amber rating.

Since last year’s report, 29 projects have left the GMPP – 26 with a green or amber rating – while 38 have joined.

Smallwood said this “indicates positive performance and shows the improvements made over time”.

The latest rise in the number of projects in the portfolio means the GMPP is for the second year running at its largest count ever. The total cost and monetised benefits of the portfolio is also the highest ever at £805bn and £758bn, compared to £678bn and £726bn in 2021-22. This growth reflects a commitment in the 2021 Declaration on Government Reform to move all major projects into the GMPP.

Quin said bringing more projects into the central portfolio “has created better central oversight and investment, enabling more transparency and closer scrutiny”.

Smallwood said: “This influx of projects highlights both the government’s ambition to foster growth in skilled and innovative parts of the UK economy, and the IPA’s focus on front-end loading.”

The focus on providing early support to projects followed a review into major project governance which Smallwood said has ensured that “rigorous oversight of project management and delivery is applied to all eligible projects meeting GMPP criteria”.

Responding to the report, the Association for Project Management called for the IPA to go further and give more project input “far earlier in the government’s policy making process”. It also called for the agency to get more government support.

Adam Boddison, the APM’s chief executive, said: “Nearly all major infrastructure projects today are delivered in volatile and complex environments so setting projects up for success from the outset has never been more important.

“Good project outcomes require the right conditions for success. This is why we are calling for greater project input far earlier in the government’s policy making process and more governmental support for the IPA.

“By setting a higher standard for the way we make decisions, challenge and respond to uncertainty, we can deliver projects which benefit generations to come.”

For a deeper dive into the work government has been doing to improve the portfolio, read CSW's major projects feature from September.

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