The number of major government projects where successful delivery appears to be unachievable has doubled from four to eight in the last year, according to data published by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority.
The joint Treasury and Cabinet Office agency’s annual report on the 133 projects included in the government’s Major Projects Portfolio found that eight schemes were rated as red on its Delivery Confidence Assessment traffic light rating system. This means that successful delivery of the project appears to be unachievable and there are major issues with project definition, schedule, budget, quality and/or benefits delivery, which at this stage do not appear to be manageable or resolvable.
The number of schemes given the red rating is double the number in last year’s report, when only four of the then 143 schemes examined were given the warning.
A further 38 projects have been rated amber/red in the 2017-18, according to CSW's analysis of the report. This means successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas, and urgent action is needed to address these problems.
Overall, this means that around one third of projects in the portfolio have been given the top two warning ratings.
The eight projects given the red rating are spread across three departments. Five projects at the Ministry of Defence were given the warning flag: the design, development and manufacture of Astute class submarines; the Marshall programme to deliver a sustainable air traffic management capability; the armoured infantry 2026 programme to upgrade capability; the core production capability programme to deliver nuclear reactors for the Royal Navy; and the development of the Protector remotely piloted air system.
All of these – with the exception of the Core Production Capability scheme – have bene downgraded by the IPA in the last year.
The Department for Transport has two red rated projects – the Intercity Express Programme to renew the UK’’s high speed trains fleet on the Great Western and East Coast rail lines, that has been downgraded from an amber rating a year ago, and the development of the M20 lorry area. This scheme, which is intended to find a permanent solution in place of Operation Stack for freight lorries in Kent, was also red rated in 2017.
The third department with a red project is the Home Office, where the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme, which plans to move UK emergency services communications onto a next-generation 4G service, was changed from amber in 2017. The department warned last month that it could delay the rollout of the scheme.
One of the projects rated red in 2017 has improved its risk rating: The DfT’s A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down bypass, near Stonehenge is now amber rated.
The remaing red rated project from 2017 was the business department's Project Eagle programme to sell the government’s one-third shareholding in Urenco, a company which provides enriched uranium to the civil nuclear industry.
Following discussions, “the IPA agreed with BEIS to stop Project Eagle”, the report said. “The project left the GMPP with a red DCA as, following a review of delivery options, it was jointly agreed that there was no viable option and project closure was recommended.”
This scheme was the only project that was stopped in 2017/18 compared to five projects which were stopped or brought to an early close in 2016/17.
In his comments to mark the launch of the report, IPA chief executive Tony Meggs highlighted that the government had completed 26 major projects in the last year. Schemes completed since the last update include construction of the Francis Crick Institute in London, the biggest biomedical research facility under a single roof in Europe, and the childhood flu immunisation programme. The Airseeker project to build three new military surveillance and intelligence aircrafts was also completed, as well as the government’s role in construction of the Thames Tideway Tunnel sewer, and work enabling construction of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station.
Over half of this year’s 26 completed projects received a Green or Amber Green rating, and the IPA highlighted that taking the right steps following reviews can improve the risk rating.
Equally, projects joining the major project slate are often at an early stage, meaning that their risk ratings are often higher. This year, 7 out of the 18 new joiners had amber/red ratings and none joined at green or amber/green.
Meggs highlighted that the collective size and scope of the major projects portfolio, which had a budget of £27bn in 2017-18 and a whole life cost of £423bn across transformation and service delivery, ICT, infrastructure and construction, and military capability, was impressive.
“It takes years of hard work from the cadre of world class project delivery professionals in government to deliver projects of this scale and complexity,” he said.
“The current portfolio of government major projects remains a broad and ambitious one. It is vital that we continue to help create the right environment for their successful delivery.”
Meggs also highlighted that the IPA was collaborating with other government functions to provide central support to projects related to Brexit.
Although few Brexit projects are included in the GMPP, the need to ensure the UK is ready to leave the European Union has “resulted in a significant increase in the number of projects and programmes that need to be delivered across government”, according to the review.
“Project delivery support to meet EU exit challenges is being coordinated across the government functions from the Cabinet Office and the Department for Exiting the European Union. This support includes project and programme management, digital services, commercial, and HR expertise, and is coordinated through the Cabinet Office’s functional support team.
“The IPA is providing a supporting role at the centre of government to help meet these requirements. In particular this includes its work in developing skilled project leaders and its wider training offer, securing resource for the most complex projects and increasing recruitment activity, and the provision of independent assurance.”
Meggs added that “the pace of this work is increasing so it is reasonable to expect that this will have an impact on the broader portfolio of government projects in future”.