The Major Projects Authority remit

The Government launched the Major Projects Authority, within the Cabinet Office’s Efficiency and Reform Group (ERG), in March 2011. It operates as a partnership between the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury, reporting jointly to the Minister for the Cabinet Office and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. It is supported by a strong Prime Ministerial mandate.

The MPA is supported by a clear and enforceable mandate and has the authority to:

  • Develop the Government’s Major Projects Portfolio and work with departments to provide verified, timely data on projects, regularly reporting to Ministers;
  • Require, review and approve integrated assurance and approval plans for each major project or programme validated by the MPA and HM Treasury, including timetables for HM Treasury approvals;
  • Carry out additional assurance reviews where there is cause for concern and ensure that Departments co-operate to take action to address any issues raised;
  • Escalate issues of concern to Ministers and accounting officers;
  • Intervene directly where projects are causing concern, providing additional assurance or commercial and operational support;
  • Make a Starting Gate review, or equivalent, mandatory for all new projects and programmes to assess deliverability before project delivery gets underway;
  • Work with departments to build capability in project and programme management, including the nomination of suitably senior and experienced officials to act as reviewers on high risk projects and programmes at least once every 12 to 18 months;
  • Require publication of project information consistent with the Coalition Government’s transparency guidelines; and
  • Work with departments to publish an annual report on the Government’s major projects.

This remit is intended to address the major areas of improvement needed: in performance data, project leadership capability, operating environment and learning. The MPA has therefore structured its work according to four critical pillars of success:

Pillar 1: The Government’s Major Projects Portfolio (GMPP). The establishment and oversight of the portfolio of the highest risk, highest value major projects across Government.

Pillar 2: The Major Projects Leadership Academy. The establishment of an Academy that will significantly improve the quality of Whitehall’s delivery expertise and build a cadre of world class project leaders.

Pillar 3: Changing the operating environment. Work to ensure projects are established and delivered under optimum circumstances and are set up to succeed from the start.

Pillar 4: Achievements and learning.­ Establish an innovative, electronic platform to capture and communicate lessons learned and best practice, to enable direct access to project material. The foundation for this will be the legacy learning from the successes of the Olympic Delivery Authority.

The Government’s Major Projects Portfolio

The GMPP is created using a definition of a major project as:

A central Government funded project or programme that requires HM Treasury approval during its life, as set out in Delegated Authority letters.”

It is important to note that there are areas where HM Treasury authority can never be delegated and accordingly, it is assumed that projects which exhibit any of the following characteristics will also be classed as Major Projects:

  • Could create pressures leading to a breach in Departmental Expenditure Limits, administration costs limits, or Estimates provision;
  • Would entail contractual commitments to significant levels of spending in future years for which plans have not been set;
  • Could set a potentially expensive precedent;
  • Are novel and contentious; or could cause significant repercussions for others; or
  • Require primary legislation; or where Treasury consent is a statutory requirement.

The exact portfolio for each department is agreed by the MPA and the relevant HM Treasury spending team, after discussion with the department.

The GMPP comprises the largest and most ambitious projects, delivering the Government’s main policy initiatives. It represents projects of huge complexity, innovation and risk. All Government Departments have projects on the GMPP.

It is mandatory for all projects on the GMPP to report core performance data to the MPA on a quarterly basis. The purpose of collating that data is to:

  • Achieve cross-government understanding of size and cost of the whole GMPP;
  • Achieve cross-government understanding of cost and viability of individual projects;
  • Achieve understanding of departmental rankings of projects, and support the MPA in concentrating on those projects most critical to delivering departmental objectives;
  • Provide a high level capture of the main project, procurement, assurance and approval milestones; and
  • Identify projects with poor or declining delivery confidence or those that are not on time and/or on budget, and provide a medium-term forecast of assurance needs.

Case study: The National Citizen Service

What is it?

A voluntary programme that gives 16 and 17 year olds the opportunity to take on new challenges, learn new skills and make a difference in their communities.

How is it structured?

National Citizen Service is a unique full-time programme that takes place over three weeks, followed by 30 hours of social action. The main programme runs in the summer holidays, with shorter programmes run during spring and autumn half-terms. Participants develop a social action project that deals with a local issue they are passionate about, and spend 30 hours putting the project into action in their local community. There are up to 50,000 places available in 2013, and the Prime Minister has made a commitment to offer 90,000 places in 2014.

What has gone well?

  • For every £1 invested in NCS, the programme delivers up to £2 returns in benefits to communities.
  • 95% of young people reported NCS gave them the chance to develop ‘work-ready’ skills for the future, in particular teamwork, leadership and communication.
  • 85% of participants said that NCS had made them aware of more education or employment opportunitiesand the proportion of young people saying they were planning to continue in education after NCS increased. 93% of young people would definitely recommend NCS to a friend.

What value has the MPA added?

The MPA has supported the NCS programme throughout with the planning, co-ordination and evaluation. This has helped to ensure that the programme’s delivery and risk management are robust, transparent and effectively managed.

Alignment of assurance and financial approval: Integrated Assurance and Approvals Plan (IAAP)

Each project in the GMPP is required to have an IAAP. The IAAPs co-ordinate the planning and provision of assurance activities with HM Treasury and departmental approval points throughout the lifecycle of a major project. In addition, the IAAPs identify the right timing for MPA assurance reviews and serve as the basis for decisions on which type of review is appropriate. Departments are required to submit a draft IAAP for each major project for validation by both the MPA and HM Treasury. The MPA’s role of independent project assurance is fully integrated with HM Treasury’s role in the scrutiny and approval of expenditure on major projects. Under this new partnership, HM Treasury approval will not normally be given without previous MPA assurance and recommendations on project status.

This ensures that project assurance is integral to HM Treasury approval for major projects at three definitive business case stages:

  • Strategic outline case;
  • Outline business case; and
  • Full business case.

This scrutiny process is also adapted where necessary to provide progress checks on projects, thereby supporting the overall assurance process.

Assurance reviews

Building on the OGC Gateway™process introduced in 2000, the MPA has developed a suite of assurance reviews which cover the entire lifecycle of policy to delivery.

Starting Gate

Every major new initiative must have an early stage assessment of its deliverability prior to any formal feasibility work being undertaken, and where possible prior to major policy announcements.


Assesses a project’s performance and viability and makes recommendations for change to improve the likelihood of success.

Case study: The Francis Crick Institute

What is it?

‘The Crick’ is a joint venture between the UK’s largest biomedical research and academic institutions to build a world leading centre of biomedical research and innovation.

How is it structured?

The Crick will be housed in a new building close to St Pancras station in central London. It will employ 1,500 staff, of which 1,250 will be scientists, and have an operating budget of over £100 million.

What has gone well?

  • The project is successfully keeping to both time and budget.
  • There has been efficient cost planning, with the responsibility shared between The Crick and the contractor.

What value has the MPA added?

The recommendations from reviews by the MPA and its predecessor, the OGC, have helped to improve the planning of an all-embracing change programme, alongside the construction programme, to ensure the high level strategic economic, health and social benefits that are important to the UK as a whole can be realised.

Case study: The UK Green Investment Bank

What is it?

The UK Green Investment Bank (GIB) is the first bank of its kind in the world, with £3 billion of funding from the Government to invest in green projects and help the UK’s transition to a green economy.

How is it structured?

Housed in Edinburgh and London, the GIB is funded with £3 billion to the end of the financial year 2014 to 2015. It has committed £635 million to date across a number of green sectors such as offshore wind and waste.

What has gone well?

  • The roles and responsibilities within the policy team were clearly defined, and team members had previous experience of the areas they led on.
  • The bank was delivered on time and to specification.
  • In the five months it has been operational, the GIB has committed £685m to green projects, bringing alongside £1.8bn of private sector investment.

What value has the MPA added?

The MPA took on the role of ‘critical friend’ to the GIB project, by independently asking challenging questions and adding informed insights at pivotal stages of its lifecycle.

Project Assessment Reviews (PARs)

PARs are ‘deep dives’ into priority projects, which require bespoke terms of reference­. PARs allow for specific issues outside of the standard OGC Gateway™ Review process to be identified and addressed. The PAR is also the review used whenever the MPA is required to carry out further investigation and analysis of a project that is in difficulty.

The MPA has several other bespoke tools that can be used for more specific issues, including:

  • Case conference – allowing integrated planning for recovery of projects at risk or in difficulty;
  • Applied support provision – using capability from the centre in support of recovery;
  • Managed early closure – supporting controlled and timely termination of projects; and
  • Escalation – timely engagement with higher levels of management and/or Ministers to resolve otherwise intractable problems.

Assurance of Action Plans (AAPs)

Where a PAR or Gateway™ review has resulted in a project being given a Red or Amber/Red rating, a short AAP review can be carried out after a minimum of three months to ensure MPA recommendations are being acted on. This assurance focuses on the action plan put in place by the department to deal with the critical issues and recommendations of the previous review. It can result in a change in the assessment of the project’s deliverability if sufficient progress has been made. The team includes an MPA representative who has the authority to make a change to the Delivery Confidence Assessment, otherwise known as the RAG rating.

The MPA’s Delivery Confidence Assessments (RAG ratings)

Delivery Confidence Assessments give an overall summary of the state of a project. Its risk is indicated using a five point ‘traffic light’ system known as the RAG (Red–Amber–Green) scale. They should be read in conjunction with the broader narrative on a project. It is misleading to consider a projects RAG rating in isolation. The MPA ratings of departments’ project performance from GMPP quarter 2 2012/13 are included in the aggregated data published in this report, and the data on individual projects published by departments.

Projects the size and scale of those in the GMPP operate with an extremely high degree of risk and complexity, against ambitious timeframes and are frequently delivering initiatives that have no global precedent. Particularly in the earliest stages, this is likely to result in projects being assessed no higher than Amber, and frequently as Amber/Red or occasionally Red.

It is important to note that a’Red’ or’Amber/Red’rating doesnot mean a project will be or should be cancelled. It can be the case that, as part of the lifecycle, projects in earlierstages are more likely to be Amber/Red, moving towards Amber and Amber/Green as they remove risks and finalise design.

Though some projects will likely pass through stages of Red or Amber/Red on the path to successful delivery, there will also be instances where a Red rating signifies that a project is unachievable within reasonable timescales and to a reasonable budget, without urgent remedial action. Red and Red/Amber ratings signal to Ministers and officials that action is required and suitable mitigating measures can be put in place.

Rating Description
Green Successful delivery of the project to time, cost and quality appears highly likely and there are no major outstanding issues that at this stage appear to threaten delivery significantly.
Green/Amber Successful delivery appears probable; however, constant attention will be needed to ensure risks do not materialise into major issues threatening delivery.
Amber Successful delivery appears feasible but significant issues already exist, requiring management attention. These appear resolvable at this stage and, if addressed promptly, should not present a cost/schedule overrun.
Amber/Red Successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas. Urgent action is needed to ensure these are addressed, and whether resolution is feasible.
Red Successful delivery of the project appears to be unachievable. There are major issues on project definition, schedule, budget, quality and/or benefits delivery, which at this stage do not appear to be manageable or resolvable. The project may need re-scoping and/or its overall viability reassessed.

Delivery Confidence Assessments take into consideration progress against the main indicators (time, budget, benefits realisation) and other factors known to affect deliverability. This includes the design and operation of governance structures; management of the delivery chain or supplier relationships; capability and capacity of human resources, whether as a result of insufficient resource or high staff turnover; and the impact of external dependencies such as other significant internal projects, regulatory timetables and the need for market finance.

Delivery Confidence and Assurance Reviews

The RAG ratings are included in the GMPP data and are generated from the MPA’s ongoing engagement with the department and the project in question, as well as the results of the most recent piece of assurance undertaken on the project. Assurance activities are discussed in more detail above, but in the majority of cases the most significant piece of data in the final report of an assurance review is a Delivery Confidence Assessment on the same 5 point RAG scale as shown above.

Closing or re-scoping failing projects

Where necessary we will recommend the cancellation or closure of a project. These cases are rare, but must be swiftly resolved to ensure minimal further public expense. The National Programme for IT and FiReControl are examples of this. The MPA can and will recommend re-scoping projects to tackle other obstacles to reduce costs. For example, following a review of NHSmail the MPA worked with the programme to simplify the current customer base by identifying inert accounts that needed to be deactivated. This helped to release capacity within the current budget constraints.

Building capability and expertise within the Civil Service

Although the overall size of the Civil Service is falling, the MPA has achieved a significant increase in the number of accredited and practising reviewers. Some 517 reviewers were engaged on the 178 reviews undertaken in 2011 to 2012, of which 86% were civil servants. The other 14% were consultants who were brought in for some reviews where the required skill set and experience could not be found within the accredited Civil Service reviewer pool.

In April 2012, the MPA launched its first targeted strategy to increase the number of assurance reviewers and increase intervention support in response to capacity and capability shortfalls in some crucial areas. This is an ongoing programme which has already resulted in a 64% increase in MPA-approved high risk review team leaders and the establishment of a senior pool of some 100 senior responsible officers (SROs) and project directors from projects in the GMPP.

As part of this strategy, there is also a requirement for all Major Projects Leadership Academy project leaders to become reviewers and carry out reviews on projects being led by peers. This will support the creation of a pool of experts at the highest level and improve departmental capability to self-assess.

The MPA wants the assurance reviewer role to be more closely aligned with civil servants’ career progression and work has started to explore how staff might benefit from becoming accredited. During the MPA’s second year of operations we developed the pool of reviewers. In the future, with a more proactive approach to ensuring high risk projects receive additional assurance, we will focus on increasing the number of reviewers and broadening skill sets and expertise, enlisting members from Government and the private sector.

Co-ordination with other assurance and approval mechanisms

For the largest, most complex, and highest priority projects in the GMPP, additional assurance over and above the standard MPA processes may be required prior to Treasury approval being given. In these cases, the project will be scrutinised by the Major Projects Review Group (MPRG), a Panel chaired by the Director General of Public Spending consisting of leading public and private sector delivery professionals. There will be a peer-to-peer review where the Panel engages directly with the SRO and Project Director.

The formal outcome of the panel is a letter from the Chair to the Permanent Secretary of the department copying in the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the Minister for the Cabinet Office and in some circumstances, the Secretary of State of the department. This also forms part of the advice to the Chief Secretary with a recommendation to either:

  • Approve that the project goes ahead on the proposed plan;
  • Approve the project with conditions; or
  • Recommend that the project be re-scoped or closed.

Case study: The Digital TV Switchover Programme (DSO)

What is it?

DSO’s remit was to seamlessly switch UK TV to digital by October 2012, ensuring all viewers found the switchover a simple, easy process. They also provided switchover assistance to older and disabled people.

How is it structured?

DSO was a highly complex programme based on a partnership of Digital UK (a not-for-profit company established specifically to co-ordinate the delivery), Government, Ofcom and the BBC. It has brought digital terrestrial TV to nearly all households for the first time, increasing the choice of affordable digital TV options.

What has gone well?

  • DSO successfully met the timetable and the agreed critical success factors, and is on track to deliver significant savings.
  • More than 1,154 transmitter sites were re-engineered.
  • Consumer communications helped to achieve very high levels of awareness.
  • Engaged successfully with diverse range of stakeholders, from charities to industry.

What value has the MPA added?

The MPA played a mentoring role in helping to develop the unique shared style of governance of the programme. MPA provided guidance on operational and strategic good practice, which led to stronger processes.