Major projects: government leaders reveal recipe for success

Infrastructure and Projects Authority says strong public sector involvement coupled with move away from traditional government structures has been a important factor in the success of capital projects like London 2012 and Crossrail

By Suzannah Brecknell

30 Mar 2016

Breaking free from “traditional government structures and ways of working” played a significant part in the success of schemes like London 2012 and Crossrail, according to a new report from the government's infrastructure watchdog.

The Infrastructure and Projects Authority was formed at the start of the year through the merger of the Major Projects Authority and the Treasury's own Infrastructure UK team. According to ministers, the joining up of the two bodies was aimed at bringing the government’s "expertise, knowledge and skills at managing and delivering major economic projects under one roof for the first time".

The IPA has now published its first guidance document, aiming to share lessons learned by leaders of some of recent, high-profile government capital projects.

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The report (available in full below) examines nine case studies including London 2012, the Ministry of Defence's Astute submarines programme and the construction of Heathrow's Terminal 5.

It aims to provide useful insights for the design of future programmes, by “understanding the reasons why recent programmes have been executed in a particular way".

Among the lessons outlined in the document, the IPA says successful schemes have benefited from flexibility in their design and delivery.

“The traditional government structures and ways of working, with HM Treasury setting annual spending limits, departments defining policy and delivering, and HM Treasury holding departments to account, were judged in some cases to be inappropriate for managing government interests in major capital programmes," the report says.

But it highlights the need for “significant public sector involvement in managing a programme or enterprise" to help "create the conditions under which the private sector will deliver effectively".

The report adds: “It has rarely proved possible to transfer effectively the contractual responsibility for the delivery of major capital programmes to a single private sector entity working in a ‘prime’ role. The private sector has often ultimately been unwilling or unable to take on this level of risk.”

Supporting this “sophisticated commercial and operating environment” has “typically required significantly enhanced public sector capability", the report adds, with the IPA highlighting the benefits of pay freedoms, consultancy support, and – in many cases – the creation of new delivery bodies.

A move towards more collaborative working “is particularly apparent in the more involved approach taken by HM Treasury, Cabinet Office and the relevant department to the design and operation of the major programme operating environment,” it continues.

Joint sponsor boards and a rolling programme of project reviews – rather than a one-off 'Main Gate' business case approval system – are picked out as two ways of supporting this collaborative approach.

The report also points to the importance of multi-year budgets which allow organisations to move resources between years, and of allowing programme leaders to move money between revenue and capital budgets as needed.

IPA Experience From Major Capital Project

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