Committee of Public Accounts

Press Notice No. 27 of Session 2004-05, dated 5 July 2005


Mr Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts in the previous Parliament, said today:

"Far too often, major IT-enabled projects in government departments are late, well over budget, or do not work at all - an enormous waste of taxpayers' money.

"The Office of Government Commerce has implemented a number of initiatives to help departments become better IT purchasers. Most of these are voluntary and their take-up by departments varies. OGC must work more closely with departments to ensure that good practice and guidance are accessible to those who need it and that those departments can build up the project management experience they need.

"Gateway Reviews, of all the OGC initiatives, have the most potential to secure significant improvements in IT procurement. It concerns me that, despite Gateway Reviews being mandatory, many large IT projects do not go through all of the stages. There may be legitimate reasons for this in some cases but nonetheless any deviation from the standard process should be agreed to by OGC ahead of time. There also needs to be greater scrutiny of ongoing projects - the National Audit Office should automatically become involved when projects proceed despite receiving 'double red' ratings and there is a strong case to be made for publishing the results of Gateway Reviews."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 27th Report of the 2004-05 Session, which examined the impact of the Office of Government Commerce's initiatives on the delivery of major IT-enabled projects.

IT-enabled programmes and projects have a direct impact on departments' ability to deliver improved public services and to secure greater efficiency. Central civil government spends annually some £2.3 billion on information technology, equivalent to 16% of total procurement expenditure, yet this Committee has reported on a succession of IT programmes and projects characterised by delay, overspends, poor performance and abandonment.

The Office of Government Commerce (OGC) was established in April 2000 to promote best value for money in procurement by working closely with departments including issuing guidance, providing advice and promulgating good practice, and developing the government's market place. In particular they have introduced a number of key initiatives:

•Gateway Reviews- independent review of IT-enabled programmes and projects at critical points in their lifecycle;

•the Successful Delivery Toolkit - an online guide to procurement policy, tools and good practice;

•the Successful Delivery Skills Programme and the Programme and Project Management Specialism - to develop and promote professional delivery and project management skills in departments; and

•the promotion of Centres of Excellence - within departments to support specific programmes and projects by providing oversight and advice, and working to enhance skills and capacities.

Of all these initiatives, the Gateway Review process has shown the most promise, bringing more rigorous scrutiny and oversight to IT-enabled programmes and projects, and providing the means to highlight risks sufficiently early for senior management to take recovery action. There is evidence, however, that Gateway is still not taken seriously enough by departments, with the same issues and shortcomings repeatedly highlighted by reviews, projects still entering the process too late, and the need for intervention by the OGC to make sure that final gateway assessments of the overall success of a project are made by departments.

Currently the OGC's Supervisory Board receives, each quarter, an analysis of Gateway Review results broken down by their Red-Amber-Green status. Since December 2002 the OGC has also been required to produce a report on "mission-critical" programmes and projects for the Prime Minister three times a year, which has increased the visibility of government projects at the most senior level.

From April 2003, projects receiving a second consecutive red review have triggered a letter from the Chief Executive of the OGC to the Permanent Secretary of the department responsible, highlighting the importance of identifying and addressing risks to successful delivery at the earliest possible stage.

The OGC has experienced varying degrees of responsiveness from departments to its other initiatives. The OGC recognises that its Web-based best practice guidance - the Successful Delivery Toolkit - is difficult for inexperienced users to penetrate, and is, at times, confusing and contradictory. It is now in the process of implementing the results of a March 2004 review of how it could better embed its advice and guidance within departments.

The Successful Delivery Skills Programme and the Programme and Project Management Specialism, are a comprehensive set of tools, training and development actions to help improve the management of projects and programmes. There has, however, only been a limited take-up of either scheme and while some departments have put in place alternative means to secure and develop expertise, many others have not. There remains, therefore, a shortfall in appropriate programme and project management skills across departments generally.

While the OGC needs to take further steps to understand how it can best liaise with departments, they in turn need to become more intelligent customers of the OGC. Centres of Excellence should be able on the one hand to shape OGC's initiatives to local need while, on the other, acting as the hub within departments for the collation and dissemination of good practice and advice.

The OGC has worked closely with industry - particularly with Intellect, the IT industry's trade organisation - to develop a mutually beneficial relationship. This work has included drawing up frameworks and codes of practice with the aim of making their respective roles and responsibilities clearer, but these have yet to have an impact within departments or project teams.

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