Government departments had responded poorly to recommendations to improve performance on major projects such as the HS2 rail link © PA

A third of large government projects due for delivery over the next five years are unlikely to fully deliver or will remain unfinished, unless remedial action is taken, according to Britain’s spending watchdog.

The National Audit Office identified 37 of 106 projects as “at risk” over the next five years because of high staff turnover, skills shortages and poor risk management. The estimated total value of the projects over their lifetime was £511bn and spending in 2015-16 would reach £25bn, the auditor said.

Government departments had responded poorly to recommendations to improve performance on major projects such as the HS2 rail link from London to cities in the north of England and the universal credit welfare project, the NAO said.

Government departments needed to stress test whether they could deliver projects in budget and on time and that they should have procedures to ensure focus on high priority projects and systems to properly measure performance.

“More effort is needed if the success rate of project delivery to improve,” Amyas Morse, head of the NAO said.

The NAO admitted that the findings related only to schemes large enough to require Treasury approval. Capital expenditure estimates suggest overall spending — at local and devolved governments and arms length bodies — could be twice the headline figure.

The government will spend £20bn on 40 IT projects, £146bn on 24 defence equipment projects and £170bn on 30 infrastructure projects. It was also spending £175bn on improving the delivery of public services, the NAO said.

A number of projects saw their budgets rise sharply in recent years, the NAO said. It highlighted the energy department’s £48m Electricity Market reform programme that was originally due to cost £40m and the Hinkley Point C nuclear plans, which increased to £21m last year from £14m in 2012.

The Ministry of Defence’s Complex Weapons programme rose from £4bn in 2012 to £18.5bn last year, the NAO said.

Get alerts on UK government spending when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

Follow the topics in this article