ACE chief executive Hannah Vickers was called to provide oral evidence to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs select committee on In the Government’s management of major projects on Tuesday 25 June 2019.
Hannah acted as a witness alongside Miles Ashley, Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and former Director of Construction at Transport for London, and discussed a number of issues relevant to the committee’s study, including how decisions to commission and deliver major projects are made, and what represents best practice.
Importance of project development: Hannah highlighted how difficult it is to measure the benefits of major projects, due to a lack of strong methodology and good data throughout projects, and also stressed the importance of early planning in the process of valuing major projects.
Barriers to SMEs engaging directly with government projects: While covering the issue of getting realistic project costs within a framework, Hannah was asked if she had seen examples of higher bids being accepted, and raised the issue of some SMEs being excluded from the bidding process due to the perceived risk.
Hannah discussed with the Committee how vital it was to have a clear sight of the aims of a large project, in order to ensure that the specialist capabilities of smaller firms were utilised more fully, and explaining how what may be perceived as a small role in a project could have a huge impact on its value.
Use of frameworks: The Committee raised the issue of how public sector frameworks are impacting on the market, and if these frameworks were to the detriment of obtaining value for money. Hannah said: "There is a better need for alignment of the procurement frameworks being set up across Government at the moment. From a market perspective, they do not look well-aligned, and there is a limited pipeline of work behind it."
Collaboration with the markets to understand risk: Hannah pointed out that there was an "oversight" in not having a cross-departmental view of portfolio risks across government departments. She stressed that while there are pockets of good practice, there was a lack of visibility across government clients, which reduced the opportunity to leverage a continuous pipeline of skills and innovation across departments and projects.
The value of engineers to projects: During the session, Hannah was keen to highlight the importance of ensuring that engineers are involved throughout the life cycle of a major project, and not just bought into the frame as project managers. Throughout her evidence, Hannah gave a number of examples of where engineers could add value to a project, and how clients could be missing out on this vital expertise.
Attracting and retaining talent: Finally, Hannah discussed ACE's Future of Consultancy campaign, in particular, concentrating on the need to develop the skills needed for major projects, and to adapt business models in order to give the best value.