A Report published today by John Dowdall CB, the Comptroller and Auditor General examines the extent to which the Department for Regional Development uses the Gateway review process to assist the delivery of its capital projects.
The OGCTM Gateway Review process was developed in Great Britain to improve the delivery of acquisition programmes and procurement projects such as computer systems and big construction projects. Projects are reviewed at five key decision points or “gateways” in their lifecycle to ensure that they can progress successfully to the next stage. Reviews are carried out by a small team of experts who are independent of the project.
The process was introduced in Northern Ireland in 2004. When the Public Accounts Committee examined the overspend on the Belfast / Bangor railway project, it was told that these problems could not be repeated because all projects were now Gateway reviewed.
The Committee asked the C&AG to examine the operation of Gateway in the Department for Regional Development (DRD). The C&AG found that:
- DRD spent £2 billion on capital projects since Gateway was introduced in 2004. It has carried out Gateway reviews of two procurement projects, neither of which were capital projects.
- DRD applied guidance issued by the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) to assess eligibility for Gateway. This eliminated most DRD projects from the process because (unlike the position in England) only high and medium risk projects are reviewed. DRD assessed most projects as low risk. For example NI Water’s £136 million Belfast Sewers Project, was classified as low risk despite being described as one of the biggest civil engineering projects in the UK. It was not reviewed.
- Roads Service’s £130 million package of Public Private Partnership projects which includes the Westlink upgrade was not reviewed because DFP advised that it had progressed too far to start the process. Similarly NI Water postponed its review of the £110 million Alpha drinking water project several times on the advice of DFP but was eventually told that it had progressed too far to start a formal Gateway Review process.
- DFP encourages departments to carry out “Gateway type” reviews on low risk projects and DRD has internal procedures in place to approve progress at key stages. The C&AG considers that whilst these internal procedures are essential for project management, they are not a substitute for independent Gateway review.
- DFP has reported savings of £25 million on projects which have been reviewed in Northern Ireland . This is some two percent of capital cost and the C&AG estimates that failure to apply Gateway more widely has resulted in a loss of over £10 million in DRD since the introduction of Gateway in 2004.
- Both DRD and DFP have strongly contested this figure. DRD stated that very significant savings had been achieved through conventional procurement methods and DFP stated that it had seen no Gateway review recommendations which referred to value for money savings.
The C&AG concluded that if the guidance on Gateway was applied to a project such the Belfast / Bangor railway, it seems likely that it would be assessed as low risk and not reviewed, yet the risk to public money on projects of this scale has been well evidenced. The report states that it would not be practical to review all projects but given the planned investment of £6.3 billion over the next ten years, the opportunity to make considerable savings and improve delivery will be lost if more projects are not brought within the scope of Gateway.
Notes for Editors
The Comptroller and Auditor General is Head of the Northern Ireland Audit Office (the Audit Office). He and the Audit Office are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of Government Departments and a range of other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and public bodies use their resources. His reports are published as Assembly papers.
The Comptroller and Auditor Generals report “The Management of Personal Injury Claims” is published along with “A Review of the Gateway process as NIA 175/08-09. It is available from the Stationery Office throughout the United Kingdom. It is also available on the Audit Office website at www.niauditoffice.gov.uk. The report is embargoed until 00.01 hours on 8 July 2009.
Background briefing can be obtained from the Audit Office by contacting Paul Craig (028 9025 1078)