10 June 2022

Steel needs to get to the bottom of opaque, incomprehensible CIT contract

| Ian Bushnell
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Leanne Cover

CIT CEO Leanne Cover has some explaining to do. Photo: Region Media.

As someone who regularly has to decipher ACT Government tenders and bureaucratic language generally, the meaningless mash of buzzwords that Canberra Institute of Technology served up this week in a vain bid to explain just what services it would get from a nearly $5 million contract was breathtaking.

CIT tried to explain it away as something not meant for public consumption but for the market.

Well, when $8.5 million of taxpayers’ money is involved over four years, in this case going to a consultant, Patrick Hollingworth, who describes himself as a “complexity and systems thinker”, the public needs to know just what they are paying for.

The CIT’s tenders aren’t much help, talking about “strategic guidance and mentoring services to executives and staff” and “design structures and elements that enable greater coordination of analysis and decision-making in relation to products, offerings and services”.

The requirements of the two-year $5 million contract awarded in March include:

  • developing system wide capabilities of situational awareness, early/weak signal
    detection and noise sorting;
  • developing both context-specific and generalised responses to the multitude of
    situations it encounters;
  • developing iterative capacity to cycle through adaptive/renewal processes across
    multiple spatial and temporal scales;
  • the utility and application of relevant knowledge, tools, artefacts and approaches
    in enabling CIT to become a system that learns; and
  • the utility and application of various organisational structures which promote
    better adherence to and governance of all the above practices.

The deliverables are even denser and a sociology degree might come in handy to make any sense of them.

READ MORE CIT under spotlight for awarding ‘ill-defined’ $5 million contract to a ‘systems thinker’

We still don’t know what the money was for, beyond vague terms such as mentoring and workshops, despite a CIT media statement and CEO Leanne Cover’s train wreck of a radio interview that only reinforces the view that the public is being kept in the dark.

Apparently, the services are helping CIT adapt to rapid changes and major disruptions in skills training.

“The services that we need are around that co-design and co-development of solutions that are context-specific for CIT,” Ms Cover said.

What?

Or try the CIT statement: “This language is appropriate for the market for the specific technical services for which CIT required as part of operationalising the aspiration and intent of the strategy set by the CIT Board.

“It means that CIT wish to progress the strategy it has been using, which is based on systems complexity, to build the adaptive capacity of CIT to constantly change and produce better outcomes for industry and students. The work will include expanding the ability to experiment and test ideas and co-design context-specific solutions.”

Chris Steel

Skills Minister Chris Steel is under pressure and wants answers from CIT. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

Skills Minister Chris Steel, the subject of Opposition attacks, isn’t buying it and wants a please explain from CIT within a week.

His out is that CIT operates independently from government but, as the responsible minister, that isn’t stopping Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee, who is understandably linking the matter to growing perceptions that government procurement is on the nose.

The latest contract, which was to “establish and self-sustain practices that allow for iterative learning cycles across a range of temporal (weeks, months, years and decades) and spatial (individuals, teams, departments, colleges/divisions) scales”, came in just $10 short of the $5 million mark that would have attracted scrutiny from the government procurement board.

That should also ring alarm bells.

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Consultants make good livings from government contracts, and while no one is saying Mr Hollingworth and his services are not legitimate, the public deserves to know just what those services actually are and whether they represent value for money.

$5 million would want to buy a lot more than mentoring or workshops.

Ms Cover said it would make sure CIT staff can identify the new courses that will be required to meet the challenges of the future.

On the surface, that seems like a lot of money to pay to a consultant to work out.

No matter how many times Ms Cover mentions “fully transparent” and “value for money”, we are still no wiser about how the contractor was actually going to do it.

The issue also points to an underlying problem of government and government-funded entities relying on arguably overpaid private consultants at taxpayer expense to provide services that could be in-house or provided more cheaply.

The opaque and butchered language deployed in tenders and contracts only provides cover for those running them.

Mr Steel, who knew and was concerned about the earlier lesser contracts in March last year, is in the hot seat, the Opposition isn’t going to let up and the public deserves answers.

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I also note that this episode is a re-run of the disastrous engagement by CPA Australia and its CEO at the time – Alex Malley. He departed the scene in disgrace and so should the current CEO of the CIT. Woeful all round!

These guys must have been watching past episodes of “Yes Minister” to perfect the verbalese that they have been sprouting! Sir Humphry would be very proud!

anonymouswhothis3:22 pm 15 Jun 22

Imagine the quality of courses CIT could provide if money was spent on teaching and administrative staff, the people who do the work at the ground level and not wasted on a top heavy executive area and the likes of Patrick Hollingworth. CIT is understaffed because the good people are leaving and no-one is being replaced. Time for a change upstairs.

If anyone actually knows the specifics of any fishy business going on at CIT and wants to stop this waste of public money, it looks like it can be either reported to
to the ACT Auditor General (as a Public Interest Disclosure) https://www.audit.act.gov.au/pids-representations
AND/OR
to the ACT Integrity Commission
https://www.integrity.act.gov.au/reporting-to-the-commission/how-to-report-wrongdoing

And why did the contract state as the FIRST requirement ( para 2.2) that the successful tenderer must have an u. Depth knowledge of the sciences? Ah yes of course Mr Hollingsworth and other staff member Ms Rosser are both scientists according to their Bio on ThinkGarden website. I’m still searching for transparency here!

Fortunately or unfortunately depending on your outlook, there is just too much evidence over the years to allow Exec to cover anything up so not sure what help staff can offer ( and why would they want to help cover this up anyway)?

The latest on the CIT grapevine is that Leanne has asked for help working out what the outcomes are so she can report to the Minister on Tuesday. Apparently the Exec will be working over the weekend to figure it out. Yes that’s right. They paid $5 million for work with no agreed outcomes.

Fortunately or Unfortunately, depending on your outlook on this, there are too many people that know too much background information about all these contracts so there is nothing that can be said that will allow this to be swept under the carpet!

Why would anyone sign and execute a contract only $10 under the $5 million procurement limit without having the outcomes of the previous $3.5 million in contracts readily available? Why would the CIT try to avoid an open tender process for Hollingworth’s latest contract? Why would the CIT CEO then approve an unusually short open tender process? How does any of this demonstrate integrity?

And why did the contract document state ( para 2.2) as the first requirement that the successful tenderer must have experience in the sciences and not Skills/ Education / business ?
Ah yes of course… Mr Hollingsworth and his staff member state on the ThinkGarden website that they are scientists! I’m still trying to find the transparency here!

Could we find a better example of “ The Emperors New Clothes” ?

This has indeed been an issue at CIT for years. Excellent work whoever managed to bring this into the open.

I am interested to know what price the other tenderers for this contract quoted?
Maybe then we can see if this is “ value for money” and “ market price” for these services and “ fully transparent “

Wow. This is allowed and possible in a government funded education institution? Surely the board should be appointed by a higher authority in the ACT gov to avoid a CEO being surrounded by “yes men”. This looks like something that definitely needs to be addressed by the ACT gov.

I encourage anyone reading this to check some very interesting replies to my comment below. Amazing can moment by genuinegeru but absolutely S appalling and sad to hear of CIT staff having even lost their jobs if they spoke against the value of Patrick Hollingworth’s work with CIT. The irony is that had Leanne listened to her staff who were doing her a favour by being honest, she could have saved herself from a lot of hot water right now.

As well as the financial cost, the culture of fear needs to be addressed. I’m thankful people have come forward to share their experiences. It’s not an easy thing to do.

Minister Steel to Craig Sloan, Chair, Board of Directors, CIT (cc Kate Lundy Deputy Chair):

“In my subsequent discussions directly with you, and between my office and CIT’s CEO, the government flagged concerns that these contracts may not represent efficient use of public funds in line with community expectations.
I am therefore concerned that CIT has entered into another, significantly larger contract with this provider, following those discussions and advice. I have reviewed the tender documentation and contract for this procurement and am unable to determine the specific work to be delivered through it, based on the use of jargon and an ill-defined statement of requirements.”
https://tinyurl.com/24487cp2

Tom Worthington10:05 am 11 Jun 22

The CIT contracts are perhaps not a matter for the minister, but a body set up to investigate, such as the the ACT Integrity Commission, or the the Australian Federal Police.

Replace Pocock with the consultant. The consultant has proved that they can get millions without trying

Wow Patrick, you’re done. You too Leanne. There is….no way to legitimately explain that given the $ amount. Stinks.

Stephen Saunders12:05 pm 11 Jun 22

Having cleaned up big time, Patrick could now move on to his true vocation. He could fill the Convention Centre many times over with his certificate IV course on “Living Your Life Without Shame”.

HiddenDragon8:41 pm 10 Jun 22

The world class waffle on display in that contract and the explanation of it are wasted on something as mundane and harmless as technical and further education in a regional city.

Redeploy those skills to the encryption (i.e. translation) of national security information and the head explosions from the utterly baffled Beijing hackers would register on the Richter scale.

Two points –
1. Congratulations to the Assembly’s ‘loyal Opposition’ for asking the Minister sufficient forensic questions that have now prompted him to direct CIT to provide a ‘plain English’ justification for this extraordinary expense; and
2. Sincere thanks to the riotACT for publishing their articles addressing this gobbledygook Consultant commitment.
I observe that the other local media “to serve the national city” hides its reporting on this BEHIND A PAYWALL.
The riotACT is an excellent resource, and sustaining food for thought.
Thank YouZ (plural).
In plain speaking, a consultant is someone you have paid to tell you the time, who then borrows your clock, and tells you an answer that needs further and better particulars to understand. Of course, that clock then leaves with the consultant as their I.P..

Couldn’t agree more. Your analogy about telling the time is spot on! I was there at the start of this crazy journey for CIT and kept thinking about the Emperor’s New Clothes fable. We could see it was rubbish, but all had to agree.

From what I’ve heard from CIT teachers – who are amongst the most fair and generous people you could ever meet – the only honourable thing the CEO Leanne Cover could do now is to step down. She’s lost her staff’s respect. If Chris Steel wants to find out exactly what Patrick Hollingworth’s workshops entailed, there are many CIT staff members outside of the exec team who can tell you in plain English what it was, but might need to speak on the condition of anonymity. From what Ive heard it was all just talks. Literally. Just staff members listening to him talking about his ideas. There was nothing that was or could be actioned into operational or structural changes. It’s not Chris Steel’s fault, but he sure needs to have a good talk to Leanne, the execs and the board. Sad that the reputation and hard work of so many CIT staff members has been undermined by this poor judgment on behalf of the CIT CEO and the exec. Even if they genuinely thought CIT needed the innovation that Patrick Hollingworth’s “complex systems” could provide, it’s extremely poor judgment to spend that amount of money on it. Hard to fathom how the board of a tax-payer funded public institution could approve that. The fact that Patrick Hollingworth could accept that amount of money from a public education institution is also scurrilous. Chris Steel and the government need to go hard here. There’s no question about it.

Exactly. I’ve heard the same. CIT teachers were hungry, ready and willing for innovation but they had to be “all in” with Hollingworth and his “talks” or they were out. The industry expertise and commitment the CIT teachers and staff have is outstanding. But, when the teachers and staff are quietly crying in their offices, in front of students, having breakdowns and walking out and quitting in utter disgust at the contempt they are experiencing, you’ve gotta admit there are problems! The CEO appears more committed to her “mentor” than her staff. It’s really sad.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard that many former CIT AEU ACT members have been forced out or walked away in disgust from CIT. Apparently, the AEU ACT no longer employ a CIT-specific Industrial Officer, so there’s also that to consider, especially with how quiet and apparently “approving” teachers and staff may have appeared to the CIT executive.

The ACT PSMA (S 9), which likely applies:
“A public servant must not—
(a) behave in a way that—
(i) is inconsistent with the public sector values; or
(ii) undermines the integrity and reputation of the service.”
Has CIT’s CEO undermined “the integrity and reputation of the service”? Current negative publicity and her very public support of Hollingworth’s contracts value may have already forever tarnished CIT’s reputation.
I have heard staff felt very afraid to oppose these contracts and Hollingworth’s influence. Apparently, sizeable numbers of staff who dared speak against Hollingworth’s value are no longer employed. How very curious! Apparently, Ms Cover is vehement in her defence of Mr Hollingworth’s value. I’ve also heard that CIT has been quietly shedding staff and courses. Apparently, staff have experienced Mr Hollingworth’s and Ms Cover’s “transformation” of CIT as a “restructure by stealth”. Word is, it’s been nasty! Restructures must be clearly communicated and free from obfuscation, it makes the business of getting rid of people fairer. I suggest a Google of Mr Hollingworth’s business ventures (it seems he has many business ventures on-the-go) he’s an excellent obfuscator! (IMO).
Staff must be feeling embarrassed, but also relieved that this has finally come to light.
“But he has nothing on at all,” said a little child at last. “Good heavens! listen to the voice of an innocent child,” said the father, and one whispered to the other what the child had said. “But he has nothing on at all,” cried at last the whole people. That made a deep impression upon the emperor, for it seemed to him that they were right; but he thought to himself, “Now I must bear up to the end.” And the chamberlains walked with still greater dignity, as if they carried the train which did not exist. “

Finagen_Freeman6:13 am 11 Jun 22

I understand the CIT teachers did get to keep a copy of his PPT on cloud theory and there free sandwiches during the lunch break.

Complex Systems 101 says fool the CEO with jargon and the cash will flow.

happyretiree6:12 pm 11 Jun 22

I’m surprised that this has not been ‘leaked’ sooner. CIT staff have been asking questions about mountain man for years & the CEO just gets rid of anyone who doesn’t tow the line. She is surrounded by ‘advisors’ & can’t seem to make any decisions or do anything that improves CIT. The money used for this waffle maker could have paid for additional teachers & admin staff on the front line. The place is so top heavy & needs a good clean out by an impartial referee. I’m hoping the CEO Leanne cover gets the sack along with Patrick & the rest of the useless executive, the board etc. it would be a relief to the staff to not listen to this crap any longer

happyretiree6:17 pm 11 Jun 22

I’m surprised that this has not been ‘leaked’ sooner. CIT staff have been asking questions about mountain man for years & the CEO just gets rid of anyone who doesn’t tow the line. She is surrounded by ‘advisors’ & can’t seem to make any decisions or do anything that improves CIT. The money used for this waffle maker could have paid for additional teachers & admin staff on the front line. The place is so top heavy & needs a good clean out by an impartial referee. I’m hoping the CEO Leanne cover gets the sack along with Patrick & the rest of the useless executive, the board etc. it would be a relief to the staff to not listen to this crap any longer

Great comment! How terrible though that people even lost their jobs for voicing their opinion against Patrick’s workshops. Thank goodness all of this is coming to light now. Hopefully CIT can move on and recover from this

I’m with you happy retiree. The situation can only improve with a change at the top and replace the exec with people who actually have experience in TAFE and Vocational Education.

Finagen_Freeman5:18 pm 10 Jun 22

“ opaque and butchered” CT you have summed this up. CEO needs to go and take her executive with her.

Then I recommended the minister dismiss the board for failure of governance.

The ACT PSMA (S 9), which likely applies:
“A public servant must not—
(a) behave in a way that—
(i) is inconsistent with the public sector values; or
(ii) undermines the integrity and reputation of the service.”
Has CIT’s CEO undermined “the integrity and reputation of the service”? Current negative publicity and her very public support of Hollingworth’s contracts value may have already forever tarnished CIT’s reputation.

I have heard staff felt very afraid to oppose these contracts and Hollingworth’s influence. Apparently, sizeable numbers of staff who dared speak against Hollingworth’s value are no longer employed. How very curious! Apparently, Ms Cover is vehement in her defence of Mr Hollingworth’s value. I’ve also heard that CIT has been quietly shedding staff and courses. Apparently, staff have experienced Mr Hollingworth’s and Ms Cover’s “transformation” of CIT as a “restructure by stealth”. Word is, it’s been nasty! Restructures must be clearly communicated and free from obfuscation, it makes the business of getting rid of people fairer. I suggest a Google of Mr Hollingworth’s business ventures (it seems he has many business ventures on the go) he’s an excellent obfuscator! (IMO).
Staff must be feeling embarrassed, but also relieved that this has finally come to light.

“But he has nothing on at all,” said a little child at last. “Good heavens! listen to the voice of an innocent child,” said the father, and one whispered to the other what the child had said. “But he has nothing on at all,” cried, at last, the whole people. That made a deep impression upon the emperor, for it seemed to him that they were right; but he thought to himself, “Now I must bear up to the end.” And the chamberlains walked with still greater dignity as if they carried the train which did not exist. “

Capital Retro4:14 pm 10 Jun 22

Definitely a Cover-up.

“and while no one is saying Mr Hollingworth and his services are not legitimate” . Given that several CIT staff have come forward to express serious concerns to Ms. Lee, I think a lot of people around the CIT corridors are saying exactly that and have been for many years . CIT has been on the forefront of delivering training in new and emerging fields for decades – long before Mr Hollingworth came on the scene – achieved through good old fashioned industry consultation. I have more than 20 years experience in this sector and this type of contract is absolutely unheard of.

It’s all quite simple. The Peter Principle is the tendency for an employee to rise in the hierarchy through promotion until they reach a level of incompetence. According to the Peter Principle, every position in a given hierarchy will eventually be filled by employees who are incompetent to fulfill the job duties of their respective positions. The CIT has solved its Peter Principle problem of a CEO reaching their level of incompetence by paying a “complexity and systems thinker” $5 million to mentor the CEO through the difficult tasks of being a CEO. Consultants are also essential when staff are promoted for reasons other than merit. The more complex a consultant can describe their services, the more impressive and indispensable they seem, the higher their fees, the less scrutiny they attract (mostly) and the longer the rort. And it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a public service hierarchy in possession of a good budget, must be in want of a consultant.

Capital Retro4:13 pm 10 Jun 22

You forget to mention the millions that they have probably also spent on a “strategic plan” which was the buzz about 20 years ago: https://www.treasury.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/1472494/18-CIT.pdf

Process Improvements and Masterplans are also great ways to waste taxpayers money.

Capital Retro,
What on earth makes you think Strategic Plans, Masterplans or process improvements necessarily are a waste of money?

Finagen_Freeman5:22 pm 10 Jun 22

This CEO is my nominee for Peter Principle 2022 winner.

Incompetence on a grand scale.
Would love to see the recruitment panel which selected her.

Capital Retro6:01 pm 10 Jun 22

To quote Macron, “I don’t think, I know”.

CR,
Then you can explain it easily then rather than evading the question.

I mean it wouldn’t be like you to make statements like that without some evidence or logical reasoning to back it up right……..

She was originally placed as an “acting CEO”. Then, as acting CEO, she advertised for positions on the original CIT Board. Then, the CIT Board appointed her and her contract. The board recently extended her contract for another 5 years.

Capital Retro10:36 pm 10 Jun 22

It’s such a lame issue chewy – I wasn’t evading the issue but as usual, you demand an answer so I will tell you from my experience in the private sector 30 years ago what I think of it expressed by someone else in a language you can understand:

According to Henry Mintzberg; strategic planning discourages change, narrows a company’s vision, limits flexibility and it’s, in fact, oxymoronic. The process fails more often than not; it just doesn’t work anymore, and it can be downright dangerous… However, many experts believe that planning is fundamental to success, but it’s naïve and counter-productive to assume that traditional strategic planning, as we know it, is the answer… Flexibility, agility, fluidity, and not strategic plans are the keys to success in the modern business world… It’s a digital world: The Internet and affordable high-speed technology have radically reduced time lines, and profoundly changed the way you need to operate, and the way you need to plan…

OK?

Capital Retro,
That seems a very limited perspective in my mind. Even your extremely selectively chosen quote admits that it’s only poor strategic planning that can lead to poor results. Well duh.

Particularly:
“Flexibility, agility, fluidity, and not strategic plans are the keys to success in the modern business world…”

Clearly shows a limited view in that there is literally nothing that stops a strategic plan being written that is flexible, agile and fluid. It’s quite easy to write these types of plans as “living documents”. In fact most modern work in this space focuses on those exact things.

Perhaps you’ve been out of the workforce too long or weren’t involved in businesses where it was done well.

Capital Retro5:09 pm 11 Jun 22

Thanks for the free analysis, chewy.

No worries, glad you learned something. Perhaps you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Yes, the CEO and CIT Board chair scratching each others backs for many years. Old school chums I hear.

It sounds to me to be a clear case of weak signal detection and noise sorting. What bable for $5 million! It is either gross incompetence or nepotism. In any case the CEO needs to stand down and the minister investigated further. Contract and actual work output requires assessment for cost benefit and if if possible funds recovered. $5 million can feed quite a few people and is exorbitant for what has been suggested is the required output.

The problem isn’t necessarily the skills of the consultant or the potential work that might be completed.

It’s the way it was put together, a seeming lack of probity and a woefully put together contract that basically has no structured and tangible deliverables and very little way to assess whether the outcomes have delivered value for money. In fact when you compare the language used in the contract to that of the consultant’s own website, it leaves serious questions around who was leading who.

You also do have to question what exactly the CIT’s own executive are being paid for if they need this level of support for what really should be a substantial part of their own roles. How much complex systems thinking does a vocational training institute need?

Leanne removed anyone with experience in TAFE or Vocational Education from the Executive and told others not to apply for positions. Only those willing to say “Yes CEO” are welcomed.

Educate,
As CEO she and the board would be responsible and accountable for those decisions. It’s not really proof of anything.

They have not been made responsible and accountable, YET. Here’s hoping.

I have heard that the change in CIT culture Leanne and mountain man have been trying to obtrude has resulted in a culture of fear. I’d be afraid of speaking up if I saw my highly experienced and respected colleagues’ careers damaged after they dared to oppose the CIT CEO’s mentor’s “expertise”. He started as a celebrity speaker; now, $8 million later, he’s a scientist!

CIT are supposed to be expert in training and training requirements. They have trainers and experts in various trades who should be aware of trends in their own fields. This lot sounds like Mr Hollingworth wrote the requirements and got the CIT management to go along with it. Good luck to him, but the management who signed it off should go

happyretiree6:14 pm 11 Jun 22

Agree wholeheartedly

Stephen Saunders7:31 am 10 Jun 22

Nearly impossible to satirise – I dare The Shovel to even try.

I mean, it’s a given, our universities disappeared up their own navels a long time ago. But, hullo, Leanne’s mob were meant to be training our tradies. For the gritty everyday world, not in 4D space-time.

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