Ministers out of the loop on IT projects

Ministers are not keeping track of "mission-critical" government IT projects, a new report has warned.

The report, released today by the Public Accounts Committee, suggests large-scale government IT programmes fail because of poor project management.

The UK government spends some 12 to 14 billion a year on new and existing IT projects, but a fifth of project heads of so-called "mission critical", high-risk programmes have not met with their minister, and another 28 per cent meet less than once a quarter.

More than 70 per cent of senior officials were worried about the lack of programme and project management skills inside their departments.

Project heads - called Senior Responsible Owners (SROs) by the government - have a high turnover rate and lack previous experience bringing unnecessary risk to already complicated projects, the report said. Over half of SROs are in their first such role.

"It's certainly no good putting someone in charge of the programme who lacks the experience and skills to get the best out of external contractors and stays in post only as long as it takes to get another civil service position," said Edward Leigh MP and chairman of the committee. "The appointment of the official in charge must be on the basis that he or she is committed to staying the course and that performance and reward are linked to agreed targets and milestones."

Despite regular criticism of the NHS IT programme and others, the report praised the Payment Modernisation and Pension Credit programmes as examples of successful large-scale IT projects.

"Not all major government IT projects end up on the rocks, as the successful Payment Modernisation Programme and Pension Credit have shown," said Leigh. "If more large IT projects are to be similarly successful, then departments will have to understand what was done to make things go right."