The Government’s 10-point plan – can they get there without us?

Posted on Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012 | Posted in Funding, Government Relationships, Social Development Partners focus, Social Services, Welfare | 1 Comment »

In March this year the Government announced its plans for reform of the public sector.

The changes, which included the establishment of the new “Super-Ministry” the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and a further reduction in core government positions, also signalled the setting of specific achievement targets for the public sector.

We last wrote in response this three months ago in early April, wondering then about a shake up in our sector.

Read previous article

As promised, the specific targets were released by the Government last week. Spread across five “themes” or areas or Government activity, they include reducing:

  • the number of people receiving a “working age benefit (unemployment, sickness, DPB and Widows’ benefits) by 30% by 2017. If achieved this would see 23,000 fewer people reliant on a long-term benefit.
  • the number of assaults on children by 1,000 (the details on how the Government intends to do this will be part of the White Paper for Vulnerable Children due to be released later this year).
  • reoffending by 25% by 2017. Again the “action plan” for this target will be released later this year.

Read a full list of the targets

The Government has acknowledged some of the targets will be difficult to achieve (the Prime Minister has described the list as “aspirational”) but their intention is clear. This is a “to-do list, not a wish-list”.

What is interesting about a number of the targets is that in many cases the responsibility for meeting the target is not confined to a single ministry or department. Instead achievement of a target will require a “multi-agency” collaborative approach. The most obvious example of this is the targets to improve outcomes for vulnerable children, which could involve at the very least Health, Education, and Social Development (Family & Community Services, Work & Income and Child Youth & Family).

To assist with this multi-agency approach the Government has announced changes to the Public Finance Act and the State Sector Act that will allow Government agencies to work together, share functions and services and to organise themselves around these expected results. The responsibilities of Chief Executives will be extended to consider the collective  interests of government rather than focus on a single department. These legislative changes will be introduced later this year.

And herein may lie the first problem. The setting of these targets is happening against a background of cuts to the public service. A further cap (or maximum) in the number of full-time equivalent positions announced earlier this year means the number of people employed by the public service has decreased by over 3,500 since 2008.

Government departments are also being required to make savings within restricted budgets. We would ask is this the environment to require departments to work together and achieve “aspirational outcomes”?

However, if the public service is shrinking there is always the community sector, right? Well, here could lie the second problem.

To date the Government appears to be slow to involve social service agencies in the development of plans to achieve these targets. As the primary deliverer of many social services the sector should be involved in this process from the beginning.

There is a strong message from the sector that achieving targets will only be successful if the Government and the sector can work together.

In addition, the Ministry of Social Development has begun to announce details of a further shift to outcomes-based funding for social service organisations.

At a briefing for the sector last week the Minister outlined a work programme for the next year under which:

  • the Government will determine the outcomes they wish to fund.
  • the Ministry of Social Development will streamline relationships and funding arrangements among its four service delivery units.
  • contracted services will be engaged in assessing their capability to deliver in new ways.

Minister Bennett did undertake to continue communicating and consulting with the sector.

Social Development Partners’ Executive Director, Tina Reid observes: “What is obvious is that the push for outcome-based funding is now taking on much more form, and community organisations will need to find time and opportunity to commit to considerable analysis and rethinking to survive in this environment.”

We can only reiterate what we said about this last time.  These announcements  signal further significant changes that will affect the community sector.  It is our challenge to be as prepared as we can—and seek opportunities to discuss within the sector and with Government.  We will continue to do so.

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