Press Release

Government Slow to Learn Project Management Lessons, Committee Finds

Session: 2009/2010

Date: Thursday, 24 June 2010

Reference: PAC 16/09/10

Major Government projects are still being completed late and incurring increased costs. That’s one of the key findings from the Northern Ireland Assembly Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) First Thematic Report, published today. The Report, which looks at how complex Government projects have been managed since 2007, also found that the public has not always received the intended project outcomes.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Paul Maskey MLA, Chairperson of the Committee, said: “The Committee wanted to consolidate the key findings from previous PAC reports to reinforce recurring lessons to all Government departments about managing complex projects. In the current economic climate it is essential that the planning, management and evaluation of projects is appropriate and thorough to ensure that tax payers get value for money.”

Lessons highlighted by the Committee’s first report of this kind centred on Project Management. It draws out themes such as project appraisal, project team expertise, post-project evaluation and actions to protect the taxpayers’ interests.

A number of cases examined by the Committee have exposed a worrying lack of skills in areas such as IT, accounting and project management that undermines the public sector’s ability to negotiate successful outcomes of projects with private sector contractors.

The report highlights the Committee’s experience of many appraisals which significantly under-estimated costs, resulting in significant cost overruns for large complex projects. The Committee found that such appraisals did nothing to ensure the success of projects, but instead undermined their viability.

Mr Maskey said: “ Public bodies need to be realistic and careful about the number of complex change management projects that they can resource and deliver at the same time. To be more competitive, the public sector also needs to be able to assess the profitability of contracts to their private partner. We hope that highlighting the trends we have come across will start a new and positive conversation about how efficiency can be improved for the taxpayer.”

The Committee will debate this report on 29 June 2010 in the Assembly. At that time it will also address the findings of its fourth composite report, which summarises inquiries dealt with through written correspondence with departmental officials. These included internal fraud in the Sports Institute for Northern Ireland and legal challenges by unsuccessful bidders.


Notes to Editors:
  • The Committee was concerned that a senior member of staff within the Sports Institute for Northern Ireland was able to steal £75,000 over an 11-month period without being detected. We are relieved that most of the money has been recovered from the perpetrator and that robust financial management and reporting procedures have been established in SINI.
  • Since revisions to EU Regulations in 2006, those tendering for contracts have become more aware of the opportunity to challenge decisions, not just at the award stage but at all stages of the procurement process. As a result there is a growing trend in the number of legal challenges. The Department of Finance and Personnel has indicated that, since April 2007, 12 legal challenges have been ongoing against Centres of Procurement Expertise. The assessment process should be made more robust to prevent such numerous challenges.
  • Standing Orders under Section 60(3) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 have provided for the establishment of the Public Accounts Committee (the Committee). The statutory function of the Committee is to consider accounts and reports on accounts laid before the Northern Ireland Assembly. These are compiled and laid by the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland (C&AG), head of the Northern Ireland Audit Office.
  • The C&AG is empowered to investigate any area of expenditure and has a statutory right of access to all files and papers in Departments and public bodies.
The PAC Committee members are:


Mr Trevor Lunn

Democratic Unionist Party

Mr Jim Shannon 7

Mr Stephen Moutray 12

Mr David Hilditch 6,10

The Lord Browne 3,4,5,9,11

Sinn Fein

Mr Paul Maskey (Chairperson) 2

Mr Mitchel McLaughlin

Social Democratic and Labour Party

Mr John Dallat

Mr Patsy McGlone 1,8

Ulster Unionist Party

Mr Roy Beggs (Deputy Chairperson)

Progressive Unionist Party

Ms Dawn Purvis

1 With effect from 04 March 2008 Mr Thomas Burns replaced Mr Patsy McGlone.
2 With effect from 20 May 2008 Mr Paul Maskey replaced Mr John O'Dowd.
3 With effect from 1 October 2007 Mr Mickey Brady replaced Mr Willie Clarke.
4 With effect from 21 January 2008 Mr Ian McCrea replaced Mr Mickey Brady.
5 With effect from Tuesday 27 May 08 Mr Jim Wells replaced Mr Ian McCrea.
6 with effect from 15 September 2008 Mr George Robinson replaced Mr Simon Hamilton.
7 with effect from 15 September 2008 Mr Jim Shannon replaced Mr David Hilditch.
8 with effect from 29 June 2009 Mr Patsy McGlone replaced Mr Thomas Burns.
9 with effect from 18 September 2009 Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson replaced Mr Jim Wells.
10 with effect from 18 September 2009 Mr David Hilditch replaced Mr George Robinson.
11 On 19 April 2010 The Lord Browne replaced Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson.
12 On 19 April 2010 Mr Stephen Moutray replaced Mr Jonathan Craig.

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