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The ever expanding ACT PS

By johnboy - 9 April 2012 9

The ABC has the worrying news that despite promises to cut costs the ACT Public Service picked up an extra 674 full time staff last financial year:

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher says the public service will continue to grow at a moderate rate over the next few years to match population growth.

“I think it’s a pretty lean machine. We have had savings and efficiencies over the past few years and that has really focussed effort to run a more efficient government but I always think there’s room to improve on that,” she said.

“In areas like health, education, emergency services, we’re going to have to continue to fund growth because the city is growing and more people need more services.

So no chance of economies of scale then.

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9 Responses to
The ever expanding ACT PS
steveu 6:39 am 10 Apr 12

I think there is a natural eb and flow with staffing numbers – age demographics impact it greatly, and also funding of projects and the subsequent closedown of these projects will impact numbers greatly.

Whilst it is clearly evident that labor are desperately trying to stay in government, I do have to say that all my experiences with the ACT Govt service delivery have been excellent. Im pretty involved in the Canberra Community in a number of ways and I do task the ACT Govt on a regular basis – and they have stood up the the challenge I am pleased to say.

Looking around town too, its clear they are spending money on getting things done – whether it be graffiti cleanups, reduction in fuel waste etc.

I would like to give the people in ACT Govt Service Delivery a pat on the back.

EvanJames 10:35 pm 09 Apr 12

Population growth always seems to involve greater costs, and more inconvenience. I thought it was touted as a good thing?

Jack out of the box 10:16 pm 09 Apr 12

Jack out of the box said :

At most, around 7,000 (by headcount) of these employees are engaged in classifications that would fall within what is typically considered ‘public servant work’ (office-based busy work).

I should also point out that this 7,000 will still include a large proportion of employees who are directly engaged in service delivery, such as staff working in the Courts registry or with Housing ACT.

Jack out of the box 9:38 pm 09 Apr 12

SnapperJack said :

Jack, as I’ve pointed out on RA before, there are currently more than 25,000 ACT public servants for a population of 360,000 whilst in 1988 – before self government – there were 900 public servants for a population of 280,000.

Repeating the same incorrect statement more than once will do nothing to make it more correct. I have plenty of room to debate the issue on an ideological basis, but the statement you have made is both factually incorrect and also misleading. You may wish to reconsidered the merits of repeating it again.

As is later identified by welkin31, there was in fact only 21,004 ACT Public Service employees (as at June 2011), not “more than 25,000” (see ACT Public Service Workforce Provide 2010-11 here: http://www.cmd.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/294582/wfp1011.pdf). Moreover, this is a headcount figure which is misleading because it does not account for employees not engaged full time. A better measure is full-time equivalent employees (FTE). Against this measure, the ACT Public Service has 18,376.05 employees.

However, this is a very superficial way of considering and comparing public service employee numbers over time. The majority of these employees are not engaged in office-based work (which is by presumption the basis for your objection). At most, around 7,000 (by headcount) of these employees are engaged in classifications that would fall within what is typically considered ‘public servant work’ (office-based busy work). I would be interested to know of the source for your quoted 900 public servants in 1988, but regardless I have no fear in suggesting that this does not include the teachers, health professionals, nurses, cleaners, gardeners or emergency service workers that make up the remainder of the ACT’s current 21,000 employees.

Without engaging in a debate over whether or not the ACT should have self-government, self-government is by nature going to require the employment of more people than is required without self-government. Given that under Commonwealth Government control the ACT was governed with as much interest as a rich man takes in a trophy wife (that is, superficial interest), it is not excessive for the ACT Public Service to employ more staff to provide a government that considers and tackles higher level issues than simply keeping lawns mowed. It is also worth remembering that the current ACT Government combines both state and local levels of government. So we might have made do with 900 public servants for local government in 1988 (although as I’ve said I doubt this figure), but we now have a broader scope of government being served by the larger number of employees.

PantsMan said :

@Jack out of the box

The ACT PS is just a disgrace. A mix of the totally incompetent, bullying sociopaths, and refugees from the Commonwealth with big money ideas on their favourite ideological bents and no idea or intention of doing the hard work to implement any of them; and certainly not cheaply.

What’s the bet the extra 700-ish staff are all doing ‘policy’ like the Solar Feed-in Tariff, Land Rent Scheme, Sustainable Transport Discussion Paper (which always gets released about 6 months before the election and promises a ‘report’ on light rail), and none of them are actually delivering real basic services to the community in a cost effective way?

Generalised and unfounded accusations do nothing to support the veracity of your statement. I challenge you to identify an example of a “big money idea” where work commenced but implementation didn’t occur in a reasonable time. I challenge you to identify the claimed incompetence. Moreover, it is not the ACT Public Service but the Government (i.e. government MLAs) who drive the policies and programs implemented by the public service. Your objection to policy and programs should lie with them. The ACT Government, with its relative meagre budget of $4.2 billion in total appropriation, does an incredible job of keeping pace and in some cases leading state governments across the country.

It is also unlikely that many of the staff increases are in clerical roles such as those filled by policy officers. A quick review of the 2011-12 Budget media releases (here: http://www.treasury.act.gov.au/budget/budget_2011/html/press.htm) shows that areas of major investment (and therefore employee increases) are frontline services, such as the additional fire brigade recruits, paramedics, doctors and nurses.

PantsMan 6:25 pm 09 Apr 12

welkin31 said :

Looking at ACT public service numbers the percentage of our population is broadly inline with that for the states. It looks as if the lack of advantages of scale with the low ACT population – offsets the advantages of being geographically very compact.

I hope the little Table formats OK.
State–PS #—–Pop——–PS %
NSW–400,000–7,300,000–5.48
Vic–280,000–5,640,000–4.96
Qld–280,000–4,600,000–6.09
WA—140,000–2,370,000–5.91
SA—101,000–1,700,000–5.94
ACT—18,300—366,900—4.99

lol!

Hong Kong has 166,960 public servants (Dec 2012 figures) for 7,003,700 people (2009 figures). That’s 2.3%; and they have state AND federal responsiblities too!

I suppose that’s why they are an internationally competitive economy with low taxes where everthing works.

welkin31 5:20 pm 09 Apr 12

Looking at ACT public service numbers the percentage of our population is broadly inline with that for the states. It looks as if the lack of advantages of scale with the low ACT population – offsets the advantages of being geographically very compact. I hope the little Table formats OK.
State–PS #—–Pop——–PS %
NSW–400,000–7,300,000–5.48
Vic–280,000–5,640,000–4.96
Qld–280,000–4,600,000–6.09
WA—140,000–2,370,000–5.91
SA—101,000–1,700,000–5.94
ACT—18,300—366,900—4.99

PantsMan 5:20 pm 09 Apr 12

@Jack out of the box

The ACT PS is just a disgrace. A mix of the totally incompetent, bullying sociopaths, and refugees from the Commonwealth with big money ideas on their favourite ideological bents and no idea or intention of doing the hard work to implement any of them; and certainly not cheaply.

What’s the bet the extra 700-ish staff are all doing ‘policy’ like the Solar Feed-in Tariff, Land Rent Scheme, Sustainable Transport Discussion Paper (which always gets released about 6 months before the election and promises a ‘report’ on light rail), and none of them are actually delivering real basic services to the community in a cost effective way?

SnapperJack 3:41 pm 09 Apr 12

Jack out of the box said :

JB, I’m not sure why you consider that a staffing increase in the ACTPS is ‘worrying’ but I suspect that it has something to do with your worldview on small vs big government, the role and appropriateness of government intervention/regulation etc. The article also alludes to a concerning, veiled attack on back-of-house staff.

The fact remains that delivery of government programs and services requires adequate staffing. People have to be available to do the work, and not just frontline staff directly undertaking service delivery. Back-of-house staff play a critical role in supporting frontline services, both through providing the initial frameworks and facilities that allow frontline services to occur and by keeping frontline services operating.

It is a poorly formed idea that efficiency in government is created by simply cutting spending. Efficiency will result through strategic capability acquisition or development but this may well involve an upfront cost before an efficiency is realised. The Centre for Policy Development provides a good read about the issue here: http://cpd.org.au/2010/12/beyond-the-blunt-instrument-the-efficiency-dividend-and-its-alternatives/.

ACT Government public servants (as a generalisation) deliver an incredible amount with their limited available means. The ACT community would do well to remember this.

Jack, as I’ve pointed out on RA before, there are currently more than 25,000 ACT public servants for a population of 360,000 whilst in 1988 – before self government – there were 900 public servants for a population of 280,000.

How Katy can justify a further increase in an already bloated and top-heavy PS is beyond belief. Big government is never good government and the sooner we get a local version of Max the Axe the better.

Jack out of the box 3:11 pm 09 Apr 12

JB, I’m not sure why you consider that a staffing increase in the ACTPS is ‘worrying’ but I suspect that it has something to do with your worldview on small vs big government, the role and appropriateness of government intervention/regulation etc. The article also alludes to a concerning, veiled attack on back-of-house staff.

The fact remains that delivery of government programs and services requires adequate staffing. People have to be available to do the work, and not just frontline staff directly undertaking service delivery. Back-of-house staff play a critical role in supporting frontline services, both through providing the initial frameworks and facilities that allow frontline services to occur and by keeping frontline services operating.

It is a poorly formed idea that efficiency in government is created by simply cutting spending. Efficiency will result through strategic capability acquisition or development but this may well involve an upfront cost before an efficiency is realised. The Centre for Policy Development provides a good read about the issue here: http://cpd.org.au/2010/12/beyond-the-blunt-instrument-the-efficiency-dividend-and-its-alternatives/.

ACT Government public servants (as a generalisation) deliver an incredible amount with their limited available means. The ACT community would do well to remember this.

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