The government is “over-committed” to big-ticket projects and needs to “lighten the load” if it is to cope with Brexit, the head of the National Audit Office (NAO) has said.
NAO is the statutory body responsible for scrutinising the public spending of parliament.
“We will have set civil servants a Herculean task and set them up to fail, and none of us can afford that,” said Sir Amyas Morse of the extra work that Brexit will bring.
Morse’s comments were made in a speech to the Institute for Government on Thursday, where he described the government’s portfolio of projects as “enormous”.
“It includes central government’s biggest and riskiest projects, and in September it had an estimated whole-life value of £405bn,” he said.
Morse said minister’s keen to leave legacy initiatives start projects without the necessary resources, pulling civil servants away from one project to the next before the first has finished.
“We need to ask ourselves, can the public sector deliver Hinckley Point C, a third runway, HS2, a northern powerhouse, nuclear decommissioning, Trident renewal and restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster all at the same time?” he said.
On top of this, Morse said he could already see Brexit diverting civil service resources.
“Everything from EU science research funding, to aviation policy, to fisheries policy… will need to be looked at and new systems and business operations put in place to fill the gap left by the EU,” said Morse.
He called upon the government to stop projects that “are not mission critical” and to get better at prioritising.
“If we are over committed, we need to lighten the load. And that means stopping doing things… Prioritising is about making these choices intelligently,” he said.
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