Number of top government projects given red delivery warning halves in a year

Infrastructure and Projects Authority reveals Brexit may be improving project delivery across government through more efficient ways of working

Photo: Matt Foster

By Richard Johnstone

22 Jul 2019

The number of major government projects that appear undeliverable has been halved over the least 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 Major Projects Portfolio revealed only four schemes are now rated red on its Delivery Confidence Assessment traffic light rating system, down from eight last year. This is the same number as in 2017.

The red rating means that delivery of the project appears to be unachievable and there are major issues with project definition, schedule, budget, quality and/or delivery of benefits, which at this stage do not appear to be manageable or resolvable.


The four projects are: the GOV.UK Verify digital identity authentification programme in the Cabinet Office, the Department for Transport’s Crossrail scheme, the Ministry of Defence’s Armoured Infantry 2026 to upgrade capability, and the Ministry of Justice’s Transforming Compliance Enforcement Programme intended to improve recovery of criminal fines using automation.

The compliance enforcement programme was suspended in September after the government concluded it was no longer affordable under the MoJ's budget for the current Spending Review period.

Only the infantry programme was part of the red-rated group in 2018, with the others being downgraded in the last year. However, the other seven projects rated red in 2018 have all improved, and of the 110 projects that were in the portfolio last year, more (32) have improved their traffic light delivery confidence rating than have declined (19). The majority – 59 – remained unchanged.

Across the full 133 projects, 38 are rated amber-red, meaning successful delivery of the project is in doubt, and 66 are amber, meaning delivery appears feasible but there are significant issues. A further 18 are amber-green, where successful delivery appears probable but requires constant attention, and four are green, where successful delivery of the project on time, budget and quality appears highly likely. 

Among the projects rated red in 2018, three are now rated amber-red, meaning that major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas: the Department for Transport’s Intercity Express Programme for new trains, the Home Office’s much-delayed Emergency Services Network scheme, and the Ministry of Defence’s Protector programme to deliver a remotely-piloted air system.

Two of the Ministry of Defence’s formerly red-rated projects are now amber. These are the design, development and manufacture of Astute class submarines and the core production capability programme to deliver nuclear reactors for the Royal Navy, and the DfT’s project to deliver a permanent freight lorry area on the M20 motorway to replace Operation Stack in Kent,

The MoD’s Marshall programme, intended to deliver sustainable air traffic management capability, improved from red to amber-green in a year, the biggest improvement of the 2018 red cohort.

In his introduction to the report, Matthew Vickerstaff, the IPA’s interim chief executive, said that he was proud the report shines a light on government’s performance in project delivery, highlighting that “we have made great progress over the last few years in building a world-class system”.

Vickerstaff, who is set to return to his role as deputy chief executive once former oil company executive Nick Smallwood replaces Tony Meggs as chief executive and head of the cross-government project delivery function, added: “We also need to make sure we are learning the right lessons from project successes and failures. That is why we recently published a review with the Department for Transport that identified critical areas where we need to adapt our approach to delivery, such as focusing more on behaviours and culture as well as process.

“Even though this review focused on transport, it was deliberately forward-looking and system-wide, meaning that these lessons can be applied across the government portfolio.

“By applying all of these lessons to future projects we can improve our project delivery system for the long term. In what is an unprecedented and challenging environment, the IPA is working hard to ensure that the government is focused and remains committed to deliverability, whether that’s for EU exit, our most complex programmes in the GMPP or at the heart of future spending decisions.”

Brexit ‘improving project delivery’

The report also highlighted the IPA’s role in helping the government prepare for Brexit. Few of the government’s Brexit delivery projects are big enough to be included in the GMPP, but the IPA has been working with departments to ensure essential schemes can be “delivered at pace”, the report stated.

The report added that the IPA has been coordinating independent assurance of the most critical programmes within the EU exit portfolio, with the IPA’s aim to support departments with scenario planning and delivery, within the context of both the withdrawal agreement and no deal Brexit scenarios. The IPA has conducted over 100 EU exit reviews, with over 50 being undertaken since September 2018 alone, and 20 separate support engagements across 11 departments, totalling over 100 days of support.

The agency has also provided bespoke training and guidance for senior responsible owners for EU projects, with 80 EU Exit project leaders across government being provided with targeted project delivery leadership training.

“When preparing for our exit from the EU, we have also been challenged to work differently and as a consequence have improved government’s ability to deliver,” Vicarstaff added. “There’s no doubt that from a delivery point of view, the legacy of EU exit will be profound. Already it has required joint working and cross-functional support to create common solutions. This has led to more meaningful engagement, more efficient ways of working and better outcomes.”

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