The newly-created Infrastructure and Projects Authority risks becoming “a champion for Government projects” rather than carrying out oversight, a committee of MPs has warned.
On 1 January the Major Projects Authority and Infrastructure UK merged to form the new body, but the Public Accounts Committee has published a report warning public scrutiny may suffer as a result.
The committee also warned the requirements of good project delivery are often not understood well enough by the ministers and permanent secretaries responsible for major decisions affecting those projects.
“Very few members of Parliament enter politics with previous experience in running large organisations or delivering major projects. Likewise, permanent secretaries’ or potential permanent secretaries’ careers will not necessarily include experience of delivering major projects,” said the committee.
The report said it was hard to see what impact the Major Projects Authority had created since it was established in March 2011 to provide independent feedback on central government's biggest and riskiest projects.
“It is disappointing that after nearly five years we cannot see more tangible signs of what impact these initiatives have had,” the report said.
The committee called on the new Infrastructure and Projects Authority to report back to the committee in January 2017 on the benefits of the merger and on how it has improved data collection and analysis.
The MPs recommended the authority set out “plans for a revised approach for early intervention” when projects are at risk.
It also recommends it educates MPs and civil servants on the delivery process for major projects.
Meg Hillier, Labour MP and chairman of the PAC, said there was clearly a role for an independent organisation that challenges departments about their plans and projects.
“One of our concerns is that this important function is not weakened or undermined following the creation of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority,” she said.
She questioned how seriously the Major Projects Authority had been taken by government. For example it issued seven warnings about the e-Borders project, which will be eight years late and cost more than £1bn.
“We concluded senior officials were dismissive of these warnings. While we cannot know if this attitude prevails across Whitehall it is clearly cause for concern,” she said.
“Ambitious timetables for delivery are of little value to the public if they simply cannot be met. Failing to plan properly and set realistic delivery targets from the outset can set in train expensive problems for which taxpayers pick up the bill.”