Public Services

David Pitchford promises better control of major projects

Gill Hitchcock Published 26 June 2012

David Pitchford promises better control of major projects

Major Projects Authority chief says approval processes for big ICT projects will be aligned by the end of 2012

David Pitchford, the executive director of the government's Major Projects Authority (MPA), has told MPs that the separation of control between HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office over the approval of major ICT projects will be aligned before the end of the year.

He was speaking at a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) about assurance for major projects, where the issue of control, identified in a National Audit Office report last month, was raised.

The report said that the Cabinet Office has controls over projects with an ICT component valued at £5m plus, or £1m for ICT systems that support administration. Central government project teams are unclear about how these controls align to the HM Treasury approval process for major projects, however.

Earlier in the hearing, Marc van Grondells, head of joint ventures at KPMG, said that rather than being abandoned, failing projects can often be reset. In the private sector, failing projects were tackled early on and were more likely to be reset than those in the public sector, he said.

Committee member Richard Bacon asked Pitchford whether the MPA should have the power to reset major projects. The MPA chief said: "To a certain extent we do have the capability, but there does need to be a certain arrangement that can be actioned.

"We do not have the power to make a wholesale change, but we do have the power when a project has been running 'red'."

Sharon White, the Treasury's director general of public spending, said that the MPA had used its existing powers to reset three major projects: the NHS National Programme for IT, carbon capture and e-Borders.

Margaret Hodge, the PAC chair, said the committee was very supportive of the principle of the MPA. The organisation was launched by the Cabinet Office's Efficiency and Reforms Group in March 2011 with the intention of tackling the poor performance which has led to the failure of government projects.

A significant concern to a number of MPs on the committee, however, was the lack of resources available to the MPA, which operates with 38 staff. Hodge said: "You are being set up for failure".

Amyas Morse, the NAO chief, added that the authority is very dependent on a few key people, including Pitchford, and that if it is going to be successful, it will need more resources.

In response, Pitchford said the organisation did not - and will not - have larger resources and had to prioritise its work.

He said the MPA will introduce two more "pillars". Firstly, an academy which will recruit and train 90 people a year in the management of big projects; and secondly, a civil service project leaders' network, which will bring together all SROs and directors of major projects to interact, and to exchange information and support.

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