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Opinion: Coutts-Trotter required at FACS as a pair of safe hands; leaves behind ICT stewardship legacy that may be hard to match

by Judy Hurditch •
Free resource

The surprise move of Department of Finance and Services (DFS) Director General and NSW Whole of Government CIO (GCIO) Michael Coutts-Trotter has been brought about by the leadership void at the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS). Director General Jim Moore has stood aside without pay following allegations of domestic assault at a time when the agency is experiencing major criticism for its case management of children at risk, particularly those who had been brought to the attention of the Department but who have subsequently died. There are allegations that funding restrictions have brought about the shortage of case workers that lies at the heart of this problem.

The situation at FACS represents the first major crisis of the O’Farrell administration. Tragically this issue has arisen a number of times in the last decade and will require both strong bureaucratic level management, as well as political responses.  It is in this context that the Government has sought to place the agency in safe hands with a Director General as experienced as Coutts-Trotter.

“I’ve especially charged Mr Coutts-Trotter with the crucial task of implementing and building upon the NSW Government’s child protection reform agenda, including implementing the recommendations of Justice James Wood’s Special Commission, as well as reforming disability services through the rollout of National Disability Insurance Scheme,” Premier O’Farrell said when announcing the move on Thursday 18 July.

Coutts-Trotter’s appointment can be backed up by track record. In 2004, he was moved to the then NSW Department of Commerce to provide stability and leadership after a significant period of leadership churn. 

Following its establishment as the Department of Commerce in 2003, the agency has had two further name changes, and six Director Generals, with Coutts-Trotter in the role from 2004 to 2007 as well as 2011 to 2013. Coutts Trotter was responsible as Director General for the appointment of the first Whole of Government CIO, Paul Edgecombe.

In moving to FACS, Coutts-Trotter will also be heavily involved in the Government’s intended dissolution of Businesslink, the Department’s shared services unit. 

Due to his period as WofG CIO he will have formed very clear views on what requires doing, particularly in regard to the provision of services under a cloud model, of which he is a strong proponent. Whereas previously he would have been a key stakeholder in the process, as FACS’s Director General, he will have to deal with the timing and the risks of this highly impactful change against the backdrop of the child protection problems.   

Given the ongoing criticism of the amount of time case workers are spending on administrative tasks, it is likely that further attention will be paid to a number of case management systems in coming years. The $1.2 million Caseworker Workload Management System received a funding allocation of $0.7 million in 2013-14, and the $4 million Electronic Document and Records Management System development received $1.7 million, according to Intermedium’s Budget IT.

Coutts-Trotter will presumably also retain a seat on the NSW ICT Board, a key element of the governance structure that he was heavily involved in establishing.  As WofG CIO, Coutts-Trotter chaired this Board.

Laurie Glanfield, Director General of the NSW Attorney General’s Department since 1991, and one of only three Director Generals to be ultimately retained by the O’Farrell government after it assumed power, will be DFS’s next Director General. 

As an experienced DG, he can also be expected to provide safe hands.  However, as DG of DFS, he will also assume the role of Whole of Government CIO.  On this score, the focus and capability he will bring to the WofG CIO role is not certain.  Glanfield is one of just two DGs who is not currently a member of the ICT Board.  

O’Farrell announced that “A merit selection process will be undertaken in the coming months to identify a new Director General for the Department of Attorney General and Justice. Brendan Thomas will be acting as Director General of the Department of Attorney General and Justice until the merit process is concluded”.

Both Coutts-Trotter and Glanfield will take up their new appointments on 29 July 2013.

View the NSW FACS profile on GovFacts >>>

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For more information, please contact the Editor (02) 9955 9896.

  • NSW
  • Finance & Services
  • Barry O'Farrell
  • Bussinesslink
  • Jim Moore
  • Justice James Wood
  • Laurie Glanfield
  • Michael Coutts-Trotter
  • NSW Department of Commerce
  • NSW Department of Family and Community Services
  • NSW Department of Finance and Services
  • Paul Edgecombe