Government to crunch the numbers on 6,000 major projects as part of work to ‘ensure realistic cost projections’ in future

New Data Benchmarking Service gets off the ground with information injection

The government has invested £150,000 in a mass of data to kickstart an initiative that aims to ensure that major projects are embarked upon with much more accurate estimates of how much they will ultimately cost to deliver.

Overseen by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, Government’s Major Projects Portfolio includes more than 200 programmes of work, which – on current projections – are expected to cumulatively cost the taxpayer almost £700bn to deliver to completion. Included in the portfolio are a wide range of technology installations and other transformation initiatives, as well as large-scale defence and construction projects.

The IPA has developed a new Benchmarking Data Service (BDS) which aims to bring together a comprehensive range of data on such projects. The cloud-based system will also allow this information to “shared across all public bodies to support with benchmarking and inform their project trajectory”, according to newly published commercial documents from the authority.

The intention is that, by giving them access to data on a wide range of previous projects, public sector bodies will be enabled to make accurate estimations of the costs of delivering future schemes – something which many major government programmes have failed to achieve over the years.

In the text of a recently awarded contract, the authority said: “The IPA has ambitious plans to make a step change and transform how UK government projects estimate costs, leveraging data from previously completed government projects through benchmarking to deliver better investment decisions for the UK. Too often, we have seen project costs increased during their lifecycle significantly and benefits eroded as projects progress to construction and throughout their lifecycle.

“Part of the solution to improve project outcomes – [and] value for taxpayers – is to ensure realistic projections are developed, which is where the Benchmarking Data Service can offer considerable insights. It will provide all government departments access to a growing number of realised and completed project data [and] information, enabling more informed decisions, estimates, with increased confidence in outcomes.”

Within the next two years, the IPA hopes that the service will allow those in charge of major projects to eliminate their “dependency on the private sector and rely on HM Government data”.

In the short term, however, the authority has invested £150,000 in populating the BDS system with data on more than 6,000 projects – encompassing 4,673 programmes related to UK roads, 1,298 railway projects, and 123 rollouts of new healthcare infrastructure.

The IPA has signed a three-month deal with Oxford Global Projects – a specialist consultancy which describes itself as “the world’s leading experts on megaproject management” – which will provide a range of details on the projects in question.

“Procuring data is a short term strategy to boost the BDS capability and provide access to useful data to all government departments that is already being used internationally. The target data is from public and private sectors across multiple countries, with a higher proportion from comparable countries [and] project priorities in the UK government,” the contract said. “An added benefit of this procurement means faster service availability for departments who do not have their own project database [and] reference library, saving approx. £250,000 to set up their own IT infrastructure.”

The deal, which will see the consultancy provide the IPA with supporting expertise in data science and other technical specialisms, came into effect on 31 March and runs until the end of June.

Sam Trendall

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