Government major projects chief: ‘There has been a huge effort to do things differently’

Nick Smallwood of the IPA discusses the challenges of 2021 and his reform ambitions for the year ahead

Credit: Nick Youngson/Alpha Stock Images/CC BY-SA 3.0

As government moved into its second year of leading the country’s response to the coronavirus crisis – while also managing the UK’s ultimate exit from the European Union, delivering a potentially planet-saving global climate conference, and progressing major reform ambitions – civil servants were likely busier in 2021 than in any other year on record.

In its annual perm secs round-up, PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World heard form scores of Whitehall leaders about their experiences of the past 12 months and their plans for 2022.

Nick Smallwood, chief executive of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, reflects on a year in which government’s major programmes need to find new ways of working.


What was your highlight of 2021?
My highlight of 2021 would have to be the government’s Project Delivery Conference, which was organised by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority. This conference included a diverse range of speakers from across government showcasing best practice in project delivery. The conference also included the first ever Government Project Delivery Awards – it was great to recognise the hard work and dedication of project delivery professionals and celebrate excellence in project delivery.

The winners of the Covid Response Award, the Vaccine Taskforce, were a particular highlight. The work they have done to secure and rollout vaccines for the citizens of the UK has been nothing short of inspiring.

How did you tackle the biggest challenges facing your organisation in 2021?
There is no doubt that delivering projects in the context of Covid-19 has continued to be a big challenge for the IPA and other government departments. 
The pandemic has made our work even more urgent, and it has been crucial that projects are undertaken with the best chance of successful delivery.
While it has been a challenging year, project delivery has really been recognised as a powerful catalyst for economic recovery and renewal. I am incredibly proud of the way colleagues have responded and adapted to support projects that are changing lives and leaving a lasting legacy right across the country. 

What is your number one priority for 2022?
Over the past year, there has been a huge collective effort across government to do things differently when it comes to project delivery, and continuing to drive this forward is a priority for me. We must continue to implement key reforms across project delivery to ensure that we are effective against our ambitions. This includes accelerating investment in major project expertise and leadership skills to enable us to deliver better, faster and greener. 

I am really looking forward to the rollout of the Government Projects Academy, which will transform the way the government trains and accredits project delivery professionals. People should always be at the forefront of everything we do – and the academy will empower people to invest in their development, learning, career and future.  

Which historical, mythical or contemporary figure would you most like to join you for a New Year’s Eve celebration?
What a question – that could be a multitude of folks. If I had to, I guess I would pick Bruce Springsteen – having seen him in concert, he sure knows how to perform and the atmosphere was amazing. 


Visit Civil Service World to read more entries in this year’s perm secs round-up

Sam Trendall

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