How does UK.gov fsck up IT projects? Let us count the ways

Report suggests outsourced project management, new committee and more


A report from right-wing think tank Freer has estimated failed government projects in the last few years have created delays totalling 34 years and wasted an eye-watering £7.5bn.

This was achieved by just nine projects examined by one Parliamentary committee, it said.

The paper was written by the think tank's co-chair, Lee Rowley, MP for North East Derbyshire, who also sits on the Public Accounts Committee.

The Home Office gets the blame for two large IT fails. The Emergency Services Network has racked up £3.1bn more than expected in costs and is currently 48 months late – with no certainty of when or if it will be switched on.

The Home Office also gets fingered for the Disclosure and Barring Service, which the report estimated overran its budget by £228m and is 46 months late.

Crossrail is £2.8bn over budget and 22 months late, while the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority's work at Sellafield is responsible for nine major projects costing £913m and a total of 165 months behind schedule.

The report noted failure does more damage than just wasting money. Beyond costs, delays mean the country fails to see the benefit of the work done and that further expenses are incurred. For instance, Crossrail is currently re-hiring hundreds of assurance staff who were laid off last year to try to finish the project.

Delays also undermine the long-term success of projects because budgets and other plans are made around their expected delivery dates. Transport for London planned for Crossrail to be working in 2019 – aside from ruining its own plans, the delay has also cost it £600m in lost fares.

The report calls for root-and-branch reform of project management in the civil service.

Firstly it suggested making a permanent secretary fully accountable for delivering projects. It noted, drily: "There is little apparent link between successful delivery and the careers and ambitions of the permanent secretaries who are nominally responsible for them."

The review suggested making senior civil servants responsible even if they moved to another department.

Secondly, it called for senior staff to be paid on successful delivery via some sort of performance-related fees.

Thirdly, it said government should explore the option of outsourcing project management from individual departments to a dedicated central unit. It also suggested creating a new government committee to oversee large projects.

Finally, it called for a deepening of project management and delivery skills which it noted were also in short supply in the private sector.

The full report is available as a PDF. ®

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