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Report calls for greater oversight of major infrastructure projects

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A new report published by the CBI and Turner & Townsend calls for greater oversight of major infrastructure and construction projects in the UK to support the government’s key policies for levelling up and net zero.

The report – Programmes with Purpose: delivering success in government’s major projects – sets out a series of detailed recommendations to address challenges facing the delivery of key programmes in the UK.  These include strengthening the role of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) through the creation of expert advisory teams and the drawing up of a major projects ‘playbook’.

Turner & Townsend and the CBI didn’t look specifically at rail projects, but at all of the government’s major projects portfolio (GMPP) across a range of critical sectors including transport, utilities and defence. 

Expenditure across the GMPP stands at £524 billion, according to the latest figures, but almost three quarters (135 out of 184) of major projects are currently falling behind expectations to deliver their objectives on time and on budget.   

A key recommendation is for the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) to work with the Cabinet Office to publish a Major Projects Playbook, setting out expectations and best practice on project delivering social value, meeting carbon commitments and embedding export potential as a key benchmark of project success.  The objective behind the playbook should be to break down siloes that exist between different areas of sector specialism, helping to establish a connected major projects ‘industry’. 

In rail, the report highlights lessons from the likes of HS2 as case studies where greater oversight is going to become essential, as indeed will be the case with the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP). 

The research has been developed with insight from industry and builds on the publication of the Outsourcing and Construction Playbooks and updates to its Project Routemap – which have been well-received by businesses navigating an already complex environment.  

Recommendation

The authors of the report recommend transferring oversight of the National Infrastructure Pipeline to the UK Infrastructure Bank, simplifying decision-making and prioritisation, and propose a Project Support and Delivery Unit is established within the IPA to provide advice and support to major projects.  They also believe that the IPA and Cabinet Office, to strengthen governance and accountability, should explore with private-sector partners what incentives could help reduce churn among people leading major projects, defined as senior responsible owners.  

Matthew Fell, CBI.

Matthew Fell, CBI chief policy director, said: “If levelling up and net zero are to become a reality, successfully delivering major projects right across the country must become the norm rather than the exception. 

“A brief examination of the government’s own statistics reveals the scope for significant improvements across all areas of delivery.  

“Beefing up the role of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority will enable it to directly inject greater expertise into major projects, supporting both clients and suppliers. 

“Elsewhere, churn of major project leaders in both the public and private sectors has dogged delivery for years, so we need to find a way to reduce the loss of institutional knowledge. 

“And, post-COP26, the need for action on carbon emissions in major projects could not be clearer. Ultimately, this report represents the business contribution to improving major project delivery. Getting this right can improve value for money for taxpayers and meaningfully contribute to government commitments on achieving net zero and levelling up communities. 

“Given the urgency of delivering transformational projects across the length and breadth of the country, there isn’t a moment to lose.” 

David Whysall, Turner & Townsend.

David Whysall, managing director of UK Infrastructure at Turner & Townsend, added: “The strength of the UK’s pipeline for government-backed major projects creates a once in a generation opportunity to address regional inequalities and decarbonise our economy – not only in terms of what they achieve, but how they are brought forward.  Whether working on transport programmes, defence capability, social infrastructure, technology or manufacturing, the delivery and execution needs to be world leading.    

“The fact remains that, as an industry, we are not connected and not performing either consistently or frequently at this level.  Amazing expertise already exists within individual programmes and sectors, but we need to capture and scale it.  We have also seen transformative steps taken through initiatives including the Construction Playbook, IPA Routemap, Value Toolkit and CO2nstructZero.  We now need the government to show leadership through consolidating these achievements and acting on the recommendations in our report to establish a globally leading, exportable major projects industry.” 

Conclusion

Lucy Howard, Turner & Townsend.

The authors, Turner & Townsend’s UK head of infrastructure markets Lucy Howard and director of infrastructure programme advisory Richard Wood, along with David Whysall, state in their conclusion: “Given the scale of investment and resources involved, major projects are one of the strongest tools government has for tackling the most pressing social, environmental, and economic issues the country faces.

“Yet they also remain some of the most complex to design and deliver. From understanding the priorities facing involved stakeholders, to actually ensuring value, efficiency, and positive outcomes, there are many competing factors which must be understood and embedded into the project from the outset if it is to deliver success.

Richard Wood, Turner & Townsend.

“Programmes with Purpose is designed to help clear the air rather than add to it. The recommendations are targeted at gaps in the existing landscape where there is a pressing need for change. The case studies are examples of best practice, not criticisms of the worst. And the themes are those which apply whether delivering a battleship, building a road, implementing new technology, or transforming a public service.

“Programmes with Purpose is not the final stage in the process of delivering the best major projects the UK’s public sector and partners can do, nor is it the first. But it is a step along the way to putting purpose, clarity, and collaboration at the heart of the GMPP and beyond.”

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