Saturday, 19 November 2016

Approval processes, the Queen and Parliament

I've been giving a lot of thought lately to approval processes for big investments, not just procurement. Part of my thinking has been concerned with how you would define a good approval process and evaluate the 'As-Is' - my early thinking is that it would exhibit the following:
  • Robust governance at the appropriate level;
  • Clarity of who owns and is accountable for the business case;
  • Consistency in application;
  • Visibility and transparency - knowing when a given need is in the process and what's happening;
  • Understood by users;
  • Pragmatism;
  • Integration with the wider eco-system.
How do those attributes sound to you?  What else would you include?

Anyway, news that the The Queen is now seeking approval from parliament for £369m of repairs to one of her homes was timely.  Basically Parliament hold the purse strings and need to approve the cost of the repairs at Buckingham Palace, but the current issue is why, within 12 months, has the estimated cost rose from £150m to £369m for the ten-year refit?  

We are told that last year's estimate "was one of several estimates" and didn't include inflation!  Hold on, what is the current rate of inflation, isn't it just under 1%, over the next ten years will that be radically different?  Of the 'several estimates' received last year, what was the range, and was there some selective presentation of the figures to secure last years approval in principle? It's surprising they didn't blame it on Brexit too.

I think it may be interesting to understand why such an investment is now needed - was there no investment in recent years in preventative maintenance? Is this all reactive?  Surely those managing the Royal Estate should be concerned with preventative maintenance and there shouldn't be a need for such a massive investment?

But let's also remember that this latest discussion is about approval to invest the now £369m. When I discuss an integrated approach in my list of attributes of an approval process, I'm referring to integration with what happens after approval has been granted.  I want to see approvals within stated tolerances and subsequent governance and scrutiny in the contract award and implementation, including project management. Without that Parliament would be buying a promise and abdicating responsibility for ensuing actual value for money is achieved, not just the aspiration.  There's another interesting question here, if you recall Westminster Palace is also in need of a massive refurbishment - is there no strategy for looking across the portfolio and planning accordingly?

1 comment:

  1. Great article and you have raised a very interesting point, this does seem totally reactive. It beggars belief that the estimated cost has more than doubled in a year. If nothing else that it speaks about the failure of any long term strategy that they have had.

    My understanding is that one of the reasons the work has had to be done on Buckingham Palace is for its use with foreign dignitaries, however surely they have had some real visibility on this for a long time.

    As can often be the case with these big public spending projects, we may well see the money 'invested' enter a black hole and the public be given very little visibility on exactly where the money went. It's as you mentioned an approval process after the completion of works needs to be mandated and public. I don't think that I am the only one who has seen local big public project go wildly over budget. Especially when it is in favour of other public faculties that are crying out for investment.

    The real question is, has all the media attention made any difference? We will see changes, or is this just another glimpse (one part) of the governments laissez-faire attiude towards procurement?