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IPA: Whitehall major projects show “slow and steady” delivery improvement

Neil Merrett Published 18 July 2017

Watchdog says there is an overall improvement in delivering £455bn major projects portfolio, despite progress of some key ICT programmes still viewed as being critical


Whitehall oversight body the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) has released its latest annual findings detailing the health of over 140 key transformation projects with improvements noted in the delivery of the Home Office Biometrics and ICT Procurement programmes.

However, the 2016/17 findings did find a number of other projects requiring a rethink with regard to implementation, such as the HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) digital reforms, which were given the report’s second most severe ‘Amber/Red’ rating. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) Electronic Monitoring project was given the same ‘Amber/Red’ rating – albeit upgraded from the most severe ‘Red’ rating the previous year.

The IPA's ratings are built around a five point scale from ‘Green’ - denoting a project where successful implementation is deemed likely - to a 'Red' rating, which classes a project as being unachievable without “urgent and substantive action”.

IPA chief executive Tony Meggs noted in this year's report that Government Major Projects Portfolio (GMPP) consists of 143 projects with a combined value of £455bn.

Meggs said that the projects, which span 17 government departments, showed a "slow and steady" pattern of improvement in the large part, while detailing a broad number of issues undermining Whitehall transformation. 

“Nevertheless, the majority of government projects are complex, and there are still many areas for further improvement. We are building a performance framework that will enable us to better understand project performance over time, and we continue to work with government departments and industry to improve the way individual projects are being delivered,” he said,

“One of our priorities is to build the necessary delivery capability in government so we have the very best people managing our projects.”

Meggs argued that a key outcome of this year’s findings was a reduction in the number of Senior Responsible Owners (SROs) on key projects moving on from their roles.  Project leaders were found on average to be staying on programmes for between three and three and a half years.

“If this trend continues, then it is a good sign, as consistency and continuity in project leadership are key for successful delivery,” he said.

The IPA added that the findings pointed to the need for addressing a cross-departmental lack of clear objectives, schedules and sufficient resources, which were viewed among the most common causes of Whitehall project failure.

In a joint foreword to the fifth MPA annual report, Caroline Nokes, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office, and Andrew Jones, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, argued that government service delivery and transformation were “the most complex and challenging projects to deliver.

“This is unsurprising given the level of organisational and societal change they often require,” said the foreword.

“We are getting better at understanding what it takes to deliver these unique programmes, and our enduring ambition in this area is reflected by the fact that, at 40 projects, it continues to represent the largest GMPP category by number.”

Key project ratings

Universal Credit Amber

With the publication of the new findings, the IPA has published revised ratings for a number of projects such as the Department for Work and Pensions' (DWP's) long delayed flagship welfare reform programme, Universal Credit.  Rated at amber for a second year in a row, the delivery of Universal Credit was said to be "on track", with approval now given for the project’s outline business case and a full business case expected to be published by the Autumn.

“Universal Credit is now available in every Jobcentre and local authority across Great Britain and commenced transition to the full Universal Credit service for all claimant types as planned in May 2016,” said a breakdown of the findings provided by the IPA.

“From December 2016, 44 jobcentre areas will deliver the full service. The programme is currently planning for the scaling up in July and October.   All Critical Milestones continue to be delivered on time.”

According to the IPA, the migration off of legacy benefits and onto the single Universal Credit system is scheduled to be completed in March 2022.

Defra UnITy programme – Amber/Red

The IPA has said the rating is the result of a number of risks viewed as being normal for a project of UnITy's complexity and size, with one clear concern relating to the closure of a Defra data centre.

While the project’s rating is unchanged from the previous year, the report concluded that “significant progress” has been made since September 2016 and main risks are now mitigated.

“A new data centre for Defra has been built in Crown Hosting and migration of services has commenced, supported by Crown Hosting and IBM,” said the findings.

HMCTS Reform – Amber/Red

Rated Amber/Red for the last four years, the programme to modernise services provided to courts users was still undergoing further detailed planning to ensure delivery within an extended delivery plan that was changed to six years from the four previously scheduled.

“A dashboard of critical success measures to track progress is currently under development,” the report noted.

GOV.UK Verify – Amber/Green

According to the IPA, Whitehall’s in-house identity assurance platform, expected to be used by different departments and public sector organisations, was rated Green in terms of technical delivery, yet given an Amber rating with regard to the government’s ability to adopt the technology.

“The programme has developed a targeted commercial plan to rapidly increase adoption and user volumes in 2017/18. This includes providing a new lower level of identity assurance to support departments’ needs,” said the findings.

Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP) - Amber

Retaining the same rating for the last three years, the report noted the ongoing complexity of the government’s efforts to implement the Emergency Services Network (ESN).  This will replace existing mobile communication service used by the three emergency services.

The IPA said that ESMCP switchover impacted a broad community of stakeholders and users at a time of significant restructuring among traditional commercial technology providers working with the emergency services.

“The Full Business Case (FBC) received cross government approval in November and the programme successfully awarded contracts on the main procurements on 8 December 2015,” said the project authority. “The programme has now moved into the mobilisation phase. Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR) and EE have both met some of their deliverables and have been issued with Milestone Achievement Certificates for Effective Dates (ED) + 5 and 8 months.”

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