From the construction of roads, railways and power stations, through to transforming how public bodies fulfil their responsibilities, major projects and programmes are critical to how government delivers public services and supports growth and sustainability. Major projects and programmes form a large proportion of government’s expenditure – in 2020 alone the centrally monitored portfolio of high-value, high-risk projects (Government Major Projects Portfolio) had a combined whole-life cost of £448 billion.

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More than ever, government needs to get its programme management right. It faces various challenges including meeting its commitment to deliver more infrastructure quickly; undertaking a long-term, cross-government net zero programme; and delivering the benefits from its investments in infrastructure, such as Crossrail. The National Audit Office’s statutory role to examine how government spends taxpayer’s money means we are uniquely placed to hold government to account for delivering these programmes. We can draw on our work to share what we have seen work well (and less well) to support government in delivering long-term value for money.

When examining programmes we draw from a common set of questions, developed from what we have seen. We have used these to assess how well programmes are delivered and to highlight the risks a programme faces. Although designed for an audit approach, project professionals and those reviewing programmes may find these questions useful to challenge themselves about how well a programme is being delivered. We hope this will establish a better shared understanding of what ‘good’ looks like.

Since 2017, we have published these questions alongside examples to provide easy access to our learning. Whilst this is our third iteration of questions and examples, previous reports remain relevant and we still see some of the same issues. Whether this be the need to engage end-users early to develop requirements, as in our 2011 report on FiReControl or the importance of measuring and monitoring programme benefits, as seen through the completion and sale of HS1 report in 2012 there are important insights that can still be taken from these reports.