Major Projects Authority report – but how transparent is the Cabinet Office itself?

The UK Cabinet Office published last week their second annual report and update on major projects across government. Their Major Projects Authority has been a success in terms of reviewing big and tricky projects for some years now – started under a different name under the last government, it should be said.  There's no counter-factual of course to compare. What would have happened if the Authority had not been around? But there's evidence that the group  has, for example, stopped, delayed or caused a major rethink in some huge projects.

Publishing this report is an excellent example of the principle of transparency, which Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister, has supported strongly. Other departments have been criticised by Maude and his officials for a less open approach - for instance, for not allowing their contracts to be exposed to public scrutiny.

What a pity therefore that the Cabinet Office behaves so differently when the transparency is around  their own affairs. We've been refused information from the organisation a number of times under Freedom of Information requests, and we have a current example. We asked to see the business case for the formation of the Crown Commercial Service – a fairly non-contentious question, you might think. But it has been refused. We have asked for a review, of course, because the logic in the response is unsound (the business case is still under development? CCS was formed a year ago!) We'll let you know more, either positive or negative, when we have a response on that.

So how does this fit with Maude's claims of openness? Is it a case of “do as I say, not as I do” - one rule for everyone else, a different one for his department? Some might consider that a somewhat hypocritical stance. Or doesn't he know that his officials are not applying the principles he espouses? In which case, perhaps he will see this and tell them to think again. We'll see.

Here’s our question and the response anyway.

Can you please provide me with the business case document (assuming one exists) for the formation of the Crown Commercial Service?

The requested information is considered exempt from disclosure in accordance with Section 35(1)(a) of the FOIA (the formulation or development of government policy). The exemption in Section 35 engages the public interest test, and the public interest considerations are laid out below.

Public interest considerations in favour of disclosure include:

  • Increasing the transparency of the Cabinet Offices’ considerations and calculations, and allowing the public to assure themselves that the Cabinet Office is accountable for decisions which the department has made.

Public interest considerations in favour of withholding the information include:

  • Some of the information within the scope of this request relates to issues that are still live and under development in the finalisation of the business case. The disclosure of such information could limit a free and frank exchange of views. This is particularly relevant where there may be a deterrent effect on external experts or stakeholders, who might be reluctant to provide advice should the information be disclosed.
  • Policy development is often an iterative procedure, with early proposals/documents likely to be amended or rejected altogether as the formation of policy continues. It is important that Ministers and civil servants are able to proceed with this process freely and in confidence.

We consider it is reasonable in all the circumstances that the information held by the Cabinet Office should be withheld from disclosure until (Section 35(1)(a)) and that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure.

Voices (5)

  1. Dave Orr:

    Has DWP suppressed a “red” rating on Universal Credit project?

    Posted on May 28, 2014 | 4 Comments
    By Tony Collins

    The Cabinet Office’s Major Project Authority gave the Universal Credit programme a “red” rating which IDS and the Department for Work and Pensions campaigned successfully to turn into a neutral “reset” designation, says The Independent.

    Universal Credit was “only given a reset rating after furious protests by Iain Duncan Smith and his department,” says the newspaper.

    A “reset” rating is unprecedented. All major projects at red will need a reset. That is one of the reasons the Major Projects Authority gives a red rating: to signal to the senior responsible owner that the project needs resetting or cancelling. A “reset” designation is a non-assessment.

    http://ukcampaign4change.com/2014/05/28/has-dwp-suppressed-a-red-rating-on-universal-credit-project/

    1. Dan2:

      I think that is just putting a spin on what has happened.

      If you look at the register they write their article that a reset rating is actually worse than a red rating: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/05/23/universal_credit_mpa_report/

  2. Secret Squirrel:

    We ‘know’ the answer to this in essence. McKinsey were commissioned to do a ‘quick review’. In other words, we wanted external legitimacy on stuff we’d already decided on without evidence. The business case is all being written long after the decision taken (if at all).

  3. flog:

    Maybe ask for a redacted copy with the ‘still live and under development’ sections blacked out. A quick visual would the give an indication of how ‘finalised’ the business case was when the decision to create the CCS was taken.

  4. Secret Squirrel:

    You might also want to have a look at

    https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/estimated_costs_and_benefits_of#incoming-488298

    and

    https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/mckinsey_or_other_study_into_the

    The lack of transparency by Cabinet Office is outrageous. What have they got to hide?

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