The Sydney Morning Herald has reported on a ‘secret’ review by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) on outsourcing substantial parts of the NSW Government’s delivery of services. According the SMH, IPART is to:
to investigate the ”planning, delivery and maintenance” of all public infrastructure in September, to recommend ”which capabilities should be retained within government”.
Good. There is no basis for claiming government must actually deliver services – only that it ensures they are delivered. We’ve seen major moves in the provision of disability services, with a long term target of no disability service delivery by public sector employees. Dedicated public sector money, certainly. But no delivery – it will all be outsourced to disability services providers of differing sizes, focus and capacity. One of the major payoffs there is more flexible delivery options; the other is competitive pressure.
The other long term, strategic issues this addresses are the problems of unsustainable public sector spending, and poor managerial practice. More of the same means more of the same growth in expenses. More of the same means more featherbedding and low public sector productivity. Both are things we cannot afford.
If the NSW Premier has the guts to act on the review’s findings, this could be positive. Note, however, that that is an extremely big condition.
The only problem with this sort of move is that the NSW public service does not have the people to contract, contract manage and project manage massively outsourced services to their fullest benefit. Because of that some part of large scale outsourcing will be executed in a half-arsed way. Those cases will cost money and lower quality, and will be highlighted in the media. That is the execution challenge.
Right now is the sales challenge; the need to lead and convince ordinary, concerned voters who are worried about the security of services they have grown to rely on. That requires the ability to make a clear case, show how it meets the long term security needs of key voting groups, to deal with organised resistance (including probable public sector strikes), to stop pandering to the regional whinge, to demonstrate how it shores up service certainty, and to sell the huge improvements in service quality that occur when it is done right.
Nothing in the past 3 years of the NSW government gives me any confidence that any of its members will meet the sales challenge.
Update 28 March 2014 9:29
Denials from Roads Minister Duncan Gay that any jobs at RMS to go. Says reports refer to job reductions that have already happened.
Waiting on a statement from the NSW Premier to clarify.