National Audit Office Press Releases
Lessons from major rail infrastructure programmes
This review of five major rail projects highlights lessons the Department for Transport should apply to current and future rail programmes.
A National Audit Office review yesterday of five major rail projects* sponsored by the Department for Transport since 1998 highlights 11 lessons it should apply to its current and future rail programmes.
Yesterday’s review, which draws on published NAO value for money studies, highlights the many challenges the Department has encountered in these projects which are large in scale and complex, with construction either expected to or having taken 9 to 10 years, at a cost of up to £21.4 billion. It concludes that the Department has made progress in its management of rail infrastructure programmes and responded well on programmes such as Thameslink and Crossrail to manage risks and control costs. Overall, the NAO studies indicate an improvement in the Department’s sponsorship of major rail infrastructure programmes. Yesterday’s review shows that the Department has taken action in relation to many issues raised in the NAO studies
However, as current and future rail programmes develop, there remain areas which the Department needs to address or where it needs to provide more focus.
- Developing clear strategic business cases and scrutinising economic analysis of the estimated benefits of new railways. The strategic case is vital where the Department is looking to do more than increase capacity or meet other transport needs. Failing to explain the rationale for its investment can undermine the support the Department needs for a programme to go ahead. Programmes that aim to bring wider national and economic benefits, such as High Speed 1 and High Speed 2 (HS2), face the problem of a lack of evidence to demonstrate such impacts. Economic analysis must be checked to ensure it is realistic. The Department is improving quality assurance of its analysis. Such scrutiny might have identified errors in early analysis of phase 1 of HS2 which led to an initial benefit-cost ratio of 2.4:1 [restated in the 2013 NAO report to 2.6:1]since revised to 1.4:1 which is more in line with equivalent programmes.
- Economic assumptions also need to reflect changes in real-life behaviour. The Department is well regarded in government and internationally for its economic analysis. However, it was slow to take account of potentially significant changes to passenger behaviour in its initial economic analysis for HS2. It has subsequently revised its business case to include new evidence on the value of business travellers’ time and has a programme of further research to understand how passenger behaviour has changed now that new technology is available such as laptops, tablets and internet connections on trains.
- The Department needs more programme management capacity and skills. The Department has sought to manage its limited pool of experienced programme managers by rotating senior staff between programmes, putting the most experienced people on the highest risk programmes and appointing experts to do detailed reviews. These actions demonstrate that it has a shortage of skilled staff and this is an issue which the NAO and the Committee of Public Accounts have repeatedly commented upon. The Department also needs to use its experienced staff to build skills and capability in their teams so that it has sufficient capacity for the number and scale of programmes for which it is responsible. Securing such skills may become more difficult in the future given the number of large infrastructure projects currently in progress and planned.
- Beneficiaries of new transport could contribute more funding and finance. On Crossrail, sponsors have used a mixed model of public and private funding. Beneficiaries of the line are providing funding through a business rate supplement and negotiated contributions from private sources although the Department did not secure all the contributions that it initially expected and may have to contribute an extra £160 million. On HS2 there remains uncertainty as to how much private sector contribution the Treasury is seeking and for which elements it would wish others to pay. The Department needs a better understanding of the wider benefits transport investment brings, through evaluation, to negotiate larger contributions for future programmes.
Procuring new trains (Jul 2014)
Crossrail (Jan 2014)
Latest News from
National Audit Office Press Releases
The adult social care market in England26/03/2021 11:15:00
Short-term funding and the lack of a long-term vision has hampered planning, innovation and investment in adult social care.
Investigation into government funding to charities during the COVID-19 pandemic24/03/2021 12:05:00
This report from the National Audit Office (NAO) finds that as at 19 February 2021, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (the Department) had disbursed £454 million of £494 million it made available to support charities during the COVID-19 pandemic. It did so through seven schemes and a network of nearly 200 partners, and intends to award and disburse funding until 31 March 2021.
Public Service Pensions19/03/2021 12:15:00
Today’s report from the National Audit Office (NAO) finds that government’s reforms to public service pensions have helped contain the rise in future costs to the taxpayer. However, the government could do more to consider how pensions can help recruit and retain staff.
Support for children’s education during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic18/03/2021 11:15:00
The Department for Education (the Department) took action to support schools and pupils in response to COVID-19, including ensuring that schools remained open for vulnerable children and funding online resources for those learning at home.
Timeliness of local auditor reporting on local government in England, 202016/03/2021 11:25:00
The National Audit Office (NAO) today reports that less than half of local councils, local police and local fire bodies’ 2019-20 audits were completed by the revised deadline of 30 November 2020, despite this having been pushed back to take account of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Investigation into the Culture Recovery Fund15/03/2021 11:15:00
In July 2020, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport announced its £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund to help the UK’s cultural, arts and heritage institutions survive the pandemic.
Local government finance in the pandemic10/03/2021 11:25:00
Today’s report from the National Audit Office (NAO) finds that while effective action from government has assisted local authorities in surviving financially during the COVID-19 pandemic, many authorities face significant funding gaps and the financial outlook for the sector is concerning.
Reducing carbon emissions from cars01/03/2021 11:15:00
The government has set an ambitious target for almost all cars to emit zero carbon by 2050.
Environmental tax measures15/02/2021 11:15:00
The recent (12 February 2021) report from the National Audit Office (NAO) has found that HM Treasury and HM Revenue & Customs (the exchequer departments) have a limited understanding of how far the tax system supports government’s environmental objectives.