Major projects supremo admits that less than half of the government’s biggest projects are being delivered ‘effectively’

Less than half of the government’s 200 biggest projects are likely to deliver to time and to budget, according to the government’s major projects supremo.

David Pitchford, executive director of the Major Projects Authority, who is leading the creation of a £408bn portfolio of government projects, including construction, said that as little as 40-45% of schemes were currently being delivered “effectively”.

He said: “The indicators that we have so far - and I stress this is a work in progress - [is] that less than half are being delivered effectively, on time, and to budget.

The admission came as the government announced the launch of a £6.7m tie up with Oxford University’s Said Business School to train senior civil servants to be more effective major project leaders.

Pitchford added: “I’m not great at maths but even I can work out that in a portfolio of £400bn if we can get seriously more efficient and elevate the 40-45% to 80-85%, then the gains for the tax payer are significant.”

Pitchford said he was unable to break down the figures, which include all major capital projects, from High Speed 2, to aircraft carriers and IT programmes, to say specifically how many construction projects were failing to deliver on time and to budget.

The Major Projects Authority was set up in February last year under the Efficiency and Reform Group at the Cabinet Office in order to save money on government capital projects. While the full list of projects covered by the Authority will not be published until its first annual review is made public in the summer, Pitchford said the Authority was now overseeing 206 projects with a whole-life cost of £408bn.

The government claims £147m has already been saved through the MPA’s work.

Pitchford said the Major Projects Leadership Academy would help tackle the cost of projects by bringing the leadership of major capital projects back in house at the expense of external consultants.

The leadership academy will train up to 350 people over the next four years, giving participants experience of live major projects, and asking them to pass three five-day modules as part of a year-long training exercise.

He said: “The first problem is with effective leadership. What’s happened in the last 25 years is that the capability in the public sector has been outsourced, meaning you have a spiral whereby the private consultant leads the scheme in the way they want to lead it. In the end they walk away with both the knowledge and the fee for the job, leaving the government with neither.”

Participants in the academy, which is being run jointly by the Said Business School and Deloitte, will be expected to work across government departments, with the aim of building up a “cadre” of highly trained project leaders to take on future government capital schemes.

Ultimately only those having completed the leadership academy will be able to take on schemes which fall under the ambit of the Major Projects Authority.