Skills shortage puts big infrastructure projects at risk

Aaron Morby 1 week ago
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The deepening skills crisis is putting at risk the country’s ability to deliver big infrastructure schemes as the government prepares to spend an unprecedented £800bn on projects, MPs have warned.

Watchdog MPs on the Public Accounts Committee also warn a lack of necessary project know-how within Whitehall departments means the Government is failing to act as an intelligent client.

The report published today warns skills shortages in technical and engineering disciplines are set to worsen as gaps in the UK’s workforce are compounded by competition from major global development projects.

Project management and design are also areas of concern, and skilled professionals in senior positions in particular.

In a critical report, the PAC calls for the Government to set out how it will address these issues and ensure future projects offer value for taxpayers’ money in the long term.

The MPs raise particular concern about the lack of project skills within Government departments.

This has led to an overreliance on the supply chain, particularly in technical and engineering disciplines, which its warns has made the Government over-reliant on consultancies to ensure value for money.

The report said that while the Infrastructure and Projects Authority had identified 244 new road, rail and energy projects, Whitehall departments were still failing to devote the time and effort needed to ensure they deliver value for money.

Highlighting the failure to properly assess value for money early on, the report finds that only 8% of the £432bn spend on major projects in 2019 had robust impact evaluation plans in place and around two-thirds had no plans at all.

Meanwhile of the 16,000 project professionals that need to gain accreditation from the Government’s major project leadership academy, only 1,000 had done so at the time of the PAC’s report.

Dame Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Committee, said: “Over the coming years, Government spending on major infrastructure projects is set to rise to unprecedented levels.

“Such projects present unique and novel challenges which Government must navigate if it is to secure value for public money.

“Without a robust market for essential skills in place, these are challenges the UK will fail to meet, as shortages push costs up in a globally competitive environment.

“All too often we see projects and programmes that are poorly managed and delivered late and over budget.

“The failure to ensure projects have robust impact evaluation plans in place is symptomatic of the short-term mentality dominating these processes. The Government must encourage cross-departmental learning if we are to avoid repeating past mistakes.”

 

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