Francis Maude, Cabinet Office Minister, has announced plans to set up an academy to give lessons to senior civil servants on how to manage large government projects.
Maude's aim is to boost in-house expertise to deliver projects on time, on budget, and reduce the government's reliance on external consultants. In future, no one in government will be able to lead a major government project without having completed a course at the new Major Projects Leadership Academy, he said.
The public sector has become known for some major IT project failures, including the NHS's £12 billion National Programme for IT (NPfIT), the flawed implementation of HM Revenue & Customs' (HMRC) new National Insurance and Pay As You Earn system, and FireControl, a project to centralise control centres for the fire brigade that was recently branded "one of the worst cases of project failure" in years, by the Public Accounts Committee.
The new academy, which will be created and delivered in partnership with Oxford's Saïd Business School and Deloitte, will draw lessons from public sector, as well as private sector projects, such as the London 2012 Olympics, the Universal Credit Programme and Crossrail.
The Cabinet Office Major Projects Authority (MPA), which was set up in 2010 to oversee major projects in government, will manage the academy. The MPA currently has a portfolio of more than 200 projects worth around £400 billion. The government defines a major project as any that requires Treasury sign-off for funding.
Maude said that the government wants to build on its existing expertise in Whitehall.
"Crucially, this will relinquish taxpayers from having to foot the bill for external consultancy to deliver the projects and services the country needs.
"This is an important step in our plans to reform the Civil Service – we want to build world-class project leadership skills within government. Starting with our current leaders, we will develop a generation of professionals that are internationally recognised for their skill and expertise," he said.
The academy will cover three main themes, major project leadership, technical understanding of major project delivery and commercial capability.
"We will also focus on the practical skills necessary to develop senior practitioners that can deliver very large and complex projects on time and on budget. For example, we will expose participants to the ideas, experiences and best practice from world-class major project leaders and academics," said Dr Paul Chapman, academy director at Saïd Business School.
The academy programme will start in October. Two staggered groups of around 25 people each will enter the academy each year.
The course will involve group learning, residential modules, mentoring and coaching, case study exercises and complex assignments.
Participants will be assessed at the beginning and at the end of the programme, which will feed into a personal development plan identifying learning priorities for the following two years.