17 Oct 2012
The agency created to help prevent failing public sector initiatives following the recent spate of high-profile IT mishaps needs more muscle and cash, according to the parliament's spending regulator.
Set up in 2011, the Major Projects Authority (MPA) - developed to manage government campaigns and mediate should the projects experience any difficulties - is now responsible for 200 schemes worth an estimated £376bn. IT schemes under fire include the £12.7bn revamp of NHS IT, the National Programme for IT as well as contracts concerning the Home Office's e-Borders initiative.
The MPA "has much more work but far fewer resources than the part of the Office of Government Commerce it replaced... With a budget of £6m and a 40 percent cut in staffing there are inevitably questions over whether it can achieve the improvements intended," explained the PAC in a report.
Due to budget and resource constraints, the MPA's main priority is dealing with the larger-scale projects - meaning smaller campaigns will lack sufficient attention. The MPA "prioritised its workload based on those projects which were considered to be high risk, high value, and with the potential for high reputational damage if they go wrong... [The MPA recognised] there was a danger that it could miss problems which might arise in smaller projects," the PAC stated.
In order to ensure all projects receive the same care and attention, the watchdog has recommended increasing funds for the MPA.
"The Authority and HM Treasury should quantify the return on investment from the Authority's work to identify whether further investment would benefit the taxpayer," said the report's authors.
Statistics compiled by the MPA show that only a third of big public-sector schemes are delivered on time and on budget.
Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the PAC, expressed that the committee "has long been concerned that government too often turns a blind eye to warning signs of impending failure of its major projects."
She added: "With a sharply cut workforce and a budget of just £6m a year to oversee over 200 projects with a value of £376bn, the agency cannot achieve what it was set up to do. It has to focus on only the biggest and most risky projects. Even then, it has to rely on the individual departments to play their part. Over a third of departments have been slow to adopt a new assurance system."
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