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A market in public goods?

By johnboy - 10 September 2013 19

Government News is having a think about what an incoming Abbott Government is going to do to the public service.

Some ideas like putting Centrelink functions online and then moving the call centre drones to case management duties will be interesting, but at the end of the day still sees efforts to make work for staff who are still surplus to requirements.

Towards the end there’s an interesting idea:

One of the bigger ideas Dr Shergold has been championing through the Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) is the public sector partnering with not-for-profit and community-based organisations to help create a market for the delivery of ‘public goods’ – especially around costly areas like social welfare and employment that traverse jurisdictions.

Although much of the market is effectively structured around outsourcing government service delivery, Dr Shergold has stressed many of the benefits potential need to be viewed from what they deliver in terms of transformation and innovation as opposed to dollar figure cost savings to government.

That view has also been echoed to a degree by outgoing Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s appointment to replace Dr Shergold, Terry Moran who has publicly advocated that many federal service delivery functions would be more effectively delivered at state and local government levels.

All too often (as seen in Canberra’s recent garbage strike) “innovation” just ends up being getting people to work for less.

What’s Your opinion?


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19 Responses to
A market in public goods?
RedDogInCan 9:25 pm 10 Sep 13

This is hardly a new idea. NSW have been heading down this path for the past few years in the aged, disability and home care areas – even to the extent that the ‘market’ for meals on wheels is being opened up for both client and providers. Basically OAP’s will be given vouchers to spend on meals with their choice of approved service provider, either commercial and not for profit.

There are strong rumours that the likes of Coles and Woolies are preparing to compete against the traditional meals on wheels providers. Imagine having a trusted Woolies sales rep visit your dear old mum to delivery their daily meal, and then offering to renew their house insurance with Woolies, sign them up for a Woolies credit card, take their liquor order for BWS, drop of the latest Big W catalogue, change them to a Woolies mobile phone plan, fill their scripts for them at a Woolies pharmacy, and organise a handyman to come around from Masters to do those few odd jobs.

The big risk is that the commercial providers cherry pick the profitable clients and leave the unprofitable ones to not-for-profit providers, who then become the providers of last resort.

Rollersk8r 8:04 pm 10 Sep 13

breda said :

johnboy, given the top-heavy structure of the Commonwealth public service, that would be no bad thing.

Jobs that used to be done by people in the APS 1-4 levels have relentlessly crept up the scale year after year. In the last department I worked in,the lowest level employee was a solitary APS 3. The most numerous employees were at the APS6 to EL1 range, all of whom earn more than the median wage. Many of those jobs were grossly overclassified.

Having worked in both the private and public sectors, I can attest that any business that ran itself like this would rapidly go broke. And remember, it is from the taxes on those businesses and their staff that government revenue relies (churning of taxes from government employees doesn’t count).

There aren’t a lot of jobs in the private sector where a competent, but hardly stellar, employee can pull a salary in excess of $100k per year. There are plenty of them in this town.

I’m hardly religious – but let he who has never had an unproductive day be the judge of private sector versus public! I’ve worked in both too – and I’m not complaining – but I can tell you: in 15 years in the public service I’ve never once had a long lunch, a golf day, a company car, or a $30,000 bonus that were common during my private days. We all have choices.

p1 6:29 pm 10 Sep 13

davo101 said :

p1 said :

Every single centrelink staff member will be surplus if they just stop paying the dole bludgers.

Newstart is 1% of the social security and welfare budget, not sure how much you’ll be able to reduce the staffing levels by.

I was using the Talkback radio definition of “dole bludgers”, ie anyoneª who receives any social welfare payment of any type for any reason.

a – except pensioners in the “bush” of course – they are “battlers”.

Woody Mann-Caruso 3:50 pm 10 Sep 13

“Outsource to the community sector.”
“Tried it.”
“Outsource to the community sector, but say we’re co-sourced.”
“Tried it.”
“Purchaser-provider?”
“Yep.”
“Partnering?”
“Yep.”
“Errr…have we outsourced to the community sector, but called it ‘leveraging social capital’?
“Yep.”
“Harnessing the community sector to support mutual obligation?”
“Didn’t work.”
“What are we supposed to do now, then?”
“We haven’t called it ‘creating a market for the delivery of public goods’, yet.”
“How the hell do you create a market for something that’s defined by market failure?”
“Sort it yourself, then, Mr Smart-Arse Economist.”
“…I got nothing. Market it is.”

caf 3:13 pm 10 Sep 13

breda said :

The recent rise of private schooling (remembering that once all schooling was private) is a contemporary example.

Of course that was in a time when “all schooling” fell far short of “schooling for all”.

breda 1:05 pm 10 Sep 13

IP, if you ever meet someone who completely understands the social security system, is an expert on mental health, manages substance abusers professionally, finds jobs for people, monitors children at risk – all at the same time – do let us know.

I have been hearing about “joined up government” for decades. Just another platitude.

What people who froth at the mouth about outsourcing don’t realise is that for most of civilised history, those services were outsourced. It is not some neo-con invasion of the natural order. For example, I have NSW Government Gazettes from the 1930s announcing the latest round of tenders for garbage collection. Families, churches, charities and other extra-governmental networks have delivered most social support services since recorded history began.

The increasing incursion of the State into those areas has not been an unmixed blessing, for a range of reasons. Cost is one. Collaboration with unions has led to featherbedding at the expense of consumers and taxpayers. Loss of individual privacy is another.

The point is, such proposals should be examined on their merits, not from a preconceived ideological viewpoint. It is not the default position that the State is the best and most efficient service deliverer in every instance. The recent rise of private schooling (remembering that once all schooling was private) is a contemporary example. Unless you subscribe to the view that the government knows best about every single aspect of our lives, a bit of healthy competition seems like a good thing to me.

IrishPete 11:59 am 10 Sep 13

Queanbeyan Council recently ditched its community services, claiming it was underfunded (though I understand no managerial positionswere lost when they got rid of theses services). The non-government sector took over.

But here’s an idea for someone in the Commonwealth Government – joined-up government. How many people dependent on Centrelink have a case worker with Centrelink, a case work with the jobs network, a mental health case worker, a child protection case worker, a housing case worker and so on. Joined up government could see these support functions all being provided by the same person, or at least people within the same agency, or the same “shopfront”.

But the trend towards privatisation (mainly to the non-government sector, but some of it to the for-profit sector) of these services, has meant further fragmentation. There’s a story, perhaps apocryphal, of a far western NSW town where over 100 different agencies operate.

I am sure Local Government would be happy to expand its role (bearing in mind this would not apply to the ACT which doesn’t have local government; perhaps it should, after all the NT has it), as it’s the closest level of government to the people (literally and figuratively), but it would need to be funded appropriately. And constant moves to amalgamate Councils reduces their localness.

IP

Grail 11:23 am 10 Sep 13

Of course there’s no mention of policing the outsourcing arrangements. But at least when you outsource the Jobs Network, NewStart, Family Benefits, and pensions noone’s going to die when you fail to deliver payments. Well, noone that matters to the Liberal government, anyway.

Just remember folks, Tony is graciously taking up Rich White Man’s Burden to serve the aborigines, women and the people that didn’t vote for him.

Spiral 11:18 am 10 Sep 13

The government could probably save a billion or two by killing the huge SAP conversion Centrelink is currently working on.

HiddenDragon 11:05 am 10 Sep 13

If there’s going to be such a market, we’ll be hearing a lot more about vouchers and puchaser/provider splits – which still involves a good deal of administrative cost, and any politican going down that path would want to be sure that there will be real savings, and that the voters won’t be too upset by the changes.

The target of 12,000 by attrition, with “frontline” services protected, still seems very optimistic – particularly if major changes to Commonwealth and State/Territory responsibilities are not to be made before the next election.

davo101 11:00 am 10 Sep 13

p1 said :

Every single centrelink staff member will be surplus if they just stop paying the dole bludgers.

Newstart is 1% of the social security and welfare budget, not sure how much you’ll be able to reduce the staffing levels by.

eyeLikeCarrots 10:54 am 10 Sep 13

p1 said :

Every single centrelink staff member will be surplus if they just stop paying the dole bludgers.

What happens when the free money stops ? Do the dole bludgers automagically go out and get jobs (other than breaking into your house to steal stuff) ?

p1 10:38 am 10 Sep 13

Every single centrelink staff member will be surplus if they just stop paying the dole bludgers.

breda 10:29 am 10 Sep 13

johnboy, given the top-heavy structure of the Commonwealth public service, that would be no bad thing.

Jobs that used to be done by people in the APS 1-4 levels have relentlessly crept up the scale year after year. In the last department I worked in,the lowest level employee was a solitary APS 3. The most numerous employees were at the APS6 to EL1 range, all of whom earn more than the median wage. Many of those jobs were grossly overclassified.

Having worked in both the private and public sectors, I can attest that any business that ran itself like this would rapidly go broke. And remember, it is from the taxes on those businesses and their staff that government revenue relies (churning of taxes from government employees doesn’t count).

There aren’t a lot of jobs in the private sector where a competent, but hardly stellar, employee can pull a salary in excess of $100k per year. There are plenty of them in this town.

OLydia 10:15 am 10 Sep 13

“That view has also been echoed to a degree by outgoing Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s appointment to replace Dr Shergold, Terry Moran who has publicly advocated that many federal service delivery functions would be more effectively delivered at state and local government levels.”

I bet the states and local government would love to hear this. Would the Feds be transferring funding as well as functions, hmm?

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