Tag Archives: Spending Review

Cabinet Office’s chief projects troubleshooter – a good choice

David Pitchford, who has been Executive Director of Major Projects within the Cabinet Office’s Efficiency and Reform Group, is to run the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority which has the power to intervene in failing projects.

Last year Pitchford delivered what Lindsay Scott, co-director of Arras People, called an “amazingly frank assessment of the state of major projects within the UK Government”.

Pitchford said failures of government projects were because of:

– Political pressure
– No business case
– No agreed budget
– 80% of projects launched before 1,2 & 3 have been resolved
– Sole solution approach (options not considered)
– Lack of Commercial capability  – (contract / administration)
– No plan
– No timescale
– No defined benefits

The new Major Projects Authority is run as a partnership with the Treasury and approves projects worth more than £5m.  The Guardian reports that the Authority has an enforceable mandate from the prime minister to oversee and direct the management of all large scale central government projects.

It will be able to:

– tell departments if there is a need for additional assurance

– arrange extra support for a project

– take disputes or problems to ministers.

Departments will be required to provide an integrated assurance and approval plan for every project at its inception. The MPA will approve these before the Cabinet Office and Treasury approves projects, and run an assurance process at key stages to assess whether they are on course to deliver on time, within budget and to the required quality.

It will also compile a portfolio of major projects, reporting on them once a year, and work with departments to improve their skills in the management of projects and programmes.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said the Authority is being set up to improve government’s poor record on project delivery.

“The MPA will work in collaboration with central government departments to help us get firmer control of our major projects both at an individual and portfolio level,” he said. “It will look at projects from High Speed Two (for London to Scotland rail services) to the Rural Payments Agency’s ICT system.”


Pitchford’s increasing influence on major projects within the Cabinet Office is welcome, especially after the departures of some other reformers who include John Suffolk and Andy Tait.

Francis Maude tells civil servants: try new things and learn from failure

By Tony Collins

Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister who’s in charge of reforming central government, has told MPs that “good organisations learn as much from the things that are tried and do not work as from the things that are tried and do work”.

His comments will give top-level support to those in the public sector who are seeking small budgets to experiment with, say, agile approaches to software development.  The agile principle of failing cheaply and quickly and learning the lessons is unconventional in the public sector.

Appearing before the Public Administration Committee, in its hearing on Good Governance and Civil Service Reform, Maude said:

“You need to have a culture-we do not have this yet-where people are encouraged to try new things in a sensible, controlled way; front up if they have not worked – not have a culture that assumes every failure is culpable, and for every failure there has to be a scapegoat – but actually make sure that if something is tried and does not work: 1) you stop doing it; and 2) you learn from the things that have been tried and what the lessons are.

“I do not think we are good at that … part of the reason for that is the sort of audit culture, where everything has to be accounted for to the nth degree.

“I think we waste a huge amount of time and effort in stopping bad things happening and the result is we stop huge amounts of potentially good things happening as well.”

Maude was critical of the way government takes huge risks on big projects but is hostile to innovation at the micro level. He said: 

“Government tends to be quite prone to take huge macro risks, but then at working level, at micro level, to be very risk averse and hostile to innovation.

“You do not often hear of someone’s career suffering because they preside over an inefficient status quo, but try something new that does not work and that can blot your copybook big time.”

Backing the G-Cloud

By David Bicknell and Tony Collins

Rarely has a single date had such importance in the history of government computing. That date was 20th October, the announcement of the Spending Review, which gives an ineluctable justification for the G-Cloud, a UK onshore government cloud infrastructure that enables public bodies to select and host ICT services from a secure, resilient and cost-effective shared environment.At this month’s Socitm conference, the G-Cloud deputy director Andy Tait explained what G-Cloud is, how it is likely to work, and what effect it will have on the existing IT landscape within government.

Tait suggested that the government will not cancel long-term IT contracts in order to introduce G-Cloud. Instead senior officials will wait for a “natural break” in contracts before replacing them with “G-Cloud capable services”.

The government has already disclosed that it is planning to scrap or scale back more than 400 IT projects, in a bid to meet its targets on public spending cuts. The government spends £17bn a year on ICT and, says Tait, some public-sector organisations have saved up to 65 percent on some projects by using the Cloud.

What’s particularly interesting about the G-Cloud, which will be a pillar of the new government IT strategy, is the intention of the Cabinet Office to include smaller companies in its plans, a move that we at the Campaign4Change wholeheartedly welcome.

Those at the Cabinet Office aim to give 25 percent of government IT business to small and medium enterprises. That is a ‘possibility’ now rather than ‘probability’ –  actions speak louder than words. That too is a welcome objective th0ugh. And the plan to use open-source solutions wherever possible should also be encouraged, despite legal restrictions which mean that the government cannot specify open-source requirements in a tender document. All contracts over a specified value will be published online and IT projects will be much more modular, with a possible maximum value of £100m for any single contract.

The G-Cloud Application Store, Tait told Socitm, is a bid to create an Amazon-like IT marketplace where anything will be available. It will have a “certified” zone, and an “open” zone where innovation will be encouraged.  Suppliers will be able to present demo applications or ‘put up Power Point presentations’ about an idea for a solution. In future government will also have a central IT authority to help it manage central components.

Of course, there will be challenges in ensuring G-Cloud is not simply blue-sky thinking. And one of those challenges is procurement.

Tait and his G-Cloud colleagues are trying to work out how they can legally do a procurement once, but with one lead organisation. G-Cloud wants the first person to procure a product to procure it on behalf of the Crown and then, once procured and the competition completed, that application or service can be made available to anybody else within the public sector, without their having to repeat the procurement.

Ultimately, officials at the Cabinet Office want to use the G-Cloud to aggregate the buying power of the entire public sector, plus the third (voluntary, not-for-profit) sector, in the hope of cutting 30% off the governments £17bn IT budget.

We at Campaign4Change see that the G-Cloud strategy, if all goes to plan, will offer a new role for small and medium-sized companies in government procurement.

Let’s hope the G-Cloud approach is as successful as another major event this month, the almost miraculous rescue of the Chilean miners. It would probably be too much to expect such a miracle quite yet from G-Cloud. But we’ll be doing what we can to support the strategy.