The Economist last week reported on British Chancellor George Osborne’s ambitious plan to remake the British Government, and it observed (in U-turns and new turns):
“By 2020 departments will be too cash-strapped to run things; public administration will be far more about awarding and overseeing contracts. That is a sensible shift, but it is not clear that bureaucrats are up to the job.”
The Economist rightly pointed out the London Olympics security contract debacle, and it could have also noted the Queensland Health payroll debacle. In the Brisbane Times coverage of the news that the Queensland Government cannot sue IBM over the health payroll debacle, it was noted that “the debacle has been described as possibly the worst public administration failure in Australia.”
The health payroll debacle demonstrated a lack of capability in the Queensland public service to oversee the implementation of major projects being delivered by contractors. This was disturbing because, regardless of the political party holding power, there is a clear trend toward greater outsourcing or contracting out, which, as I have noted previously, has been demonstrated to yield efficiency gains, typically in the range of 10-20 per cent. Of course, those gains only occur when the outsourcing is properly managed, and that was certainly not the case in the Queensland Health payroll debacle. And that is why there is an urgent need to review the capabilities of Queensland public servants and to determine their training needs in project and contract management.