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3 May 2012 | Adam Leach
The Cabinet Office and the Treasury should finalise a consistent format for reporting the progress and spending data of major projects to increase accountability and outcomes.
A report, Assurance for major projects, published yesterday by the National Audit Office (NAO), said while the establishment of the Major Projects Authority (MPA) – which was set up to scrutinise big public sector works in March 2011 - had a positive impact, but is not yet “built to last”.
The NAO said that through the MPA oversight, transparency of progress and spending on major projects had improved. But as the format for reporting had not yet been finalised, further progress had stalled.
“We consider that public reporting of project information is key to providing greater accountability for projects and improving project outcomes,” the report said. “Cabinet Office, HM Treasury and departments should agree a format and a date for public reporting.”
Amyas Morse, comptroller and auditor general at the NAO, said in a statement: “If the new system is to be ‘built to last’, the Major Projects Authority needs to carry out the initial commitments to public reporting and be part of more fully integrated assurance across government."
The report revealed that of the 205 major projects that are ongoing, 39 had the second-lowest or lowest rating out of five for delivery confidence, suggesting fears over costs rising above forecasts. The data showed 33 projects were in the amber/red category, with a combined whole-life cost of 89 billion, and a further six - valued at a total of £1 billion - were in the red category.
The report called for the MPA to establish formal ways of working with departments. In particular, it was urged to develop how it plans, prioritises and undertakes assurance work on projects.
The NAO praised the MPA for creating an academy to improve the skills of project leaders and improving the quality of reports on projects. But it added engagement from some government departments had been poor. It also said that there is not enough interaction at the senior level between the Treasury and the MPA. “There is positive engagement at a working level but senior sponsorship is important,” the study said.