Head of the NSW Commission of Audit, Kerry Schott, says that it is high time for a shared services transformation within the State Government, after more than ten years of neglect that has left many of the services provided obsolete.
“No one has tried to fix it up for well over a decade and if you think about it a lot of changes have taken place over that period. IT has moved on and no-one manages fleets internally anymore...The public service is still paying people upon the presentation of invoices with cheques. It is like electronic funds transfer hasn’t yet hit NSW,” she told attendees at a forum hosted this week by the Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA).
One of the 132 recommendations made by the Commission’s final report (the Schott Report) was that the Government pursue an alternative model for shared services provision which would see existing service organisations ServiceFirst and Businesslink consolidated into a single new body, NewCo, which would have an expanded remit for outsourcing some functions to the private sector.
In the report, Schott described the current rate of progress around shared services reform as “glacial” and said that confidence in the reform program was low.
Speaking this week she explained that she endorsed the NewCo plan because she saw it as the easiest way for the NSW Government to move forward and fix “what are really quite difficult to fix programs”.
“Both Businesslink and ServiceFirst are doing things, which in our view they should not be doing.
“We felt that by setting up a new vehicle and tipping things into it, including people, we could gain a clear view about what we want the functions of a new organisation, NewCo, to be,” she said.
However Schott also acknowledged that the Government is well within its rights to look for alternative options, as Finance and Services Minister Greg Pearce has recently indicated that it might do.
“The Minister is right in that it is just one option. We made a recommendation and the government doesn’t have to pursue it,” she said.
Pearce indicated back in April this year that work to transition NSW agency clusters to shared services arrangements had been put on hold while the structure of the program, which had originally been launched by his Labor predecessors, was reviewed.
Six months later Pearce conceded that “we have not got the solution going forward clear just yet, but we are working on it”.
Schott said that it wasn’t public service opposition that was holding up progress in reforming the State’s public functions, but rather that she and the Commission’s Advisory Board had been struck by the appetite for change.
“Everybody seemed to say ‘thank god you have written this story up, because everybody needs to know about it’,” she said. “We did not come across anyone who dug their heels in and refused to be helpful and that’s a really good sign.”