THE BLOG

Eye-Watering Budgets Need Eye-Opening Honesty - Why the Government Must Get Projects Right

23/05/2014 09:41 BST | Updated 22/07/2014 10:59 BST

We're a country of canals, railways and sweeping suspension bridges; of Smeaton, Bazalgette and Brunel. Great Victorian innovators and engineers who, with a shovel or a spirit level, fired up the industrial revolution at home and took their expertise overseas to help build the modern world.

Today this Government's transformative ambition is equally great. Our programme of reforms will ensure a secure long-term economic plan, and protect our future safety and well-being. From transforming rehabilitation to the energy that heats our homes or the motorway that takes people to work - the magnitude, volume, and variety of the Government's major projects is immense.

Projects like this will touch all of our lives. Yet despite their crucial importance and eye-watering budgets, successive governments failed to deliver major projects effectively. There was a lack of project management skills in Whitehall, and assurance processes were inadequate. Those in charge of projects switched jobs too quickly, and enormous sums of money from hard-working taxpayers were squandered.

This had to change. So after the last General Election, the Prime Minister established the Major Projects Authority. A group of dedicated officials now provide central assurance over projects, and support their colleagues to improve delivery. We gave the Authority unprecedented powers to support and, if necessary, to recommend re-scoping or closing failing projects. In 2012-13 alone we saved £1.2 billion from our work on major projects.

To ensure the Civil Service has the right skills we set up a world-leading Major Projects Leadership Academy, based at Oxford University's Said Business School, which will train every single project leader. Already almost half of project leaders have attended the academy, reducing the Government's reliance on expensive consultants. Bright civil servants love learning new things. In the past their needs were neglected and, quite unfairly, they were put in charge of huge projects - and vast amounts of public money - without the requisite training. We will invest in people to give them the skills and confidence they need to succeed.

It's a year since we published the first-ever report into our major projects. Then, we released our candid internal red-amber-green traffic light ratings for projects. Why? It is uncomfortable but transparency is important. When you're spending public money everyone has the right to know that you're doing what you can to drive best value for money. We want to demonstrate that for these big, transformative projects our team are hard at work with departments to identify future challenges so they can be addressed upstream before they become an issue.

This morning, almost exactly a year since the first, we are publishing our second annual report on major projects. There are details of 199 major projects with estimated total lifetime costs stretching to £488billion. What will people be able to see? Honest ratings and reviews of how those projects are performing. Since last year, half of the 30 projects which last year faced the most significant challenges have improved. 47 new projects have entered our portfolio. Others have left and are now up and running, including the New Passport Programme, the Greater Anglia Rail refranchising, and the new Canal & River Trust.

This Government believes that if you're open about problems as they arise and you tell people when things go wrong, then they will be more inclined to believe you when things are working and you want to talk about your achievements. Over time, being open builds trust.

Delivering major projects will never be smooth or easy. By definition, these are some of the biggest and most complex things the Government will do. Some things will always go wrong. But we must not bury our heads in the sand and pretend challenges and problems don't exist. We must address them before they become an issue. That's the mature, responsible thing to do. By being open and realistic, we can identify solutions. That's nothing less than what the public should expect from us and that's what I'm determined we do.