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28 February 2006
'Razor gang hits service efficiency’
I should like to provide feedback in relation to your outline of the reviews that are proposed to be undertaken by the Service Delivery and Performance Commission (SDPC).
My interpretation of your article: Queensland’s new public service razor gang will scrutinize everything from purchasing to performance standards. Staff in departments with overlapping roles will be cut. Service Delivery and Performance Commission released details of reviews it would undertake including: number of government departments; existing cost-cutting initiatives; red tape; and public service performance. Opposition said proposal was vague. Department of Natural Resources and EPA will be first two reviewed. Community / Disability Services as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy Department would have staff efficiency reviewed. Plan also raises possibility of: outsourcing information and communication technology; divestment of struggling commercial units (QFleet and GoPrint); cutting red tape; streamlining purchasing; and examination of problems affecting Shared Service Initiative. Dr Keliher stated that performance management was a tool whereby clear targets or outcomes were identified and measure agreed upon to determine whether they were being met. (Wenham M ‘Razor gang hits service efficiency’, Courier Mail, 23/2/06).
Unfortunately the SPDC does not seem likely to address the sorts of issues that would give an significant prospects of improving performance (such as restoration of professional competence as a real consideration in making public service appointments and establishing realistic machinery of government). This proposition is explored in more detail in Improving Public Sector Performance in Queensland.
Emphasis on 'cutting the cost of paper-clips' or fine tuning operational details (which seem to be the SDPC's goals) will achieve little where overall arrangements to decide on and implement government policies and programs are amateurish in the first place (eg if decisions have to be made by people who don't have the necessary experience or technical knowledge).
Moreover the assumption that defining clear targets and measuring performance will achieve anything reflects a simple failure to understand that government functions are typically complex and impossible to clearly define because the essence of what governments do is manage complex relationships, not just produce goods and services (see Governing is not Just Running a Large Business). What is being proposed seems little different to core goals of the 1997 Managing for Outcomes proposal for program budgeting - whose impracticality was obvious even then.