The government must act fast to stem the turnover of project managers, according to the Public Accounts Committee.

In hearings for its new report on government spending accountability, the PAC noted the importance of having a Senior Responsible Owner remain on each large project as someone accountable for its success or failure.

Chair Margaret Hodge said that HM Revenue & Customs IT programmes were a “classic" example of the fast turnover of government SROs. On the creation of a new Pay As You Earn tax IT system, she said: “I don’t think any SRO was on that project for more than a year, and they all changed the specification, so inevitably the whole system collapses, at massive, massive cost to the taxpayer”.

The now-abandoned FireControl project had 10 SROs over a five year period, PAC members noted in the hearings.

In 2006, the Public Accounts Committee reported  that in IT programmes, half of SROs were in their first role. In 2008, it was found that eight of the 18 SROs on the major projects had no substantial commercial experience. Last year, it was identified that the average turnover was 18 months.

In today’s report, the PAC said the turnover of SROs “dilutes control over major projects, has led to cost overruns and delays and further weakens accountability to parliament”.

“At a project level, Senior Responsible Owners should be held accountable for delivering projects within an agreed budget and timeframe and should have authority to direct those involved in delivering the project,” the PAC noted.

“For all major projects and programmes, the Accounting Officer should nominate a Senior Responsible Owner who is accountable to Parliament alongside the departmental Accounting Officer. Steps should be taken to reduce the present turnover of staff, which undermines efficiency and effectiveness and makes a nonsense of personal responsibility and accountability.”

Additionally, IT systems needed to be set up in a way that provided consistent, “comparable and robust” information to anyone scrutinising accountability, the PAC said.

The PAC noted that the Cabinet Office is updating its current approach to enhancing project management expertise. In the government IT strategy, announced last week, there was an explicit commitment to improve project management.