189 – Essay No. 2 – Local government, effectiveness and efficiency.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                              3300 words

false economy cartoon

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People in local government regularly discuss effectiveness and efficiency. Often this happens in relation to pressure on revenues, such as rate capping. Most of the discussion centres on efficiency rather than effectiveness, and opportunities to stop delivering those services that are seen as ‘cost shifting’ from other government. The efficiency discussion is often not well informed. Frequently it focuses on inputs while ignoring outcomes and public value. Any savings are usually equated with cost cutting, not creating the same value at lower cost.

Australian researcher and writer Christopher Stone has published several papers on ‘false economies’. Each addresses a different aspect of productivity and efficiency in the public sector.

“Everyone has the right to know that money is not being wasted; that it is being spent as efficiently as is possible.” Christopher Stone, Decoding Efficiency, April 2013.

So, what is efficiency and how does it differ from effectiveness? Continue reading

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28 – Local government shared services. Is it the silver bullet for rate capping? – Part 1

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                                         620 words

The Victorian state government plan to cap municipal rates has revived discussion about shared services. Some leaders see shared services as a silver bullet to reduce costs. What potential do shared services have to help councils respond to rate capping?

The article Government shared service back in vogue notes that shared services are usually justified by business cases promising operational efficiencies and cost savings. However, the article cites numerous examples of shared services that have failed to deliver.

In 2011, the West Australian government disbanded its Office of Shared Services centre after an Economic Regulation Authority review found the project was over budget and unlikely to deliver promised savings of $57 million a year. Instead the project had cost $401 million and achieved minimal savings.

The Queensland Health payroll upgrade was developed under the auspices of a shared services group. Originally with a budget of $98 million, and due for completion in July 2008, the project was the subject of a royal commission last year and is expected to cost taxpayers $1.2 billion by 2020.

In The Whitehall Effect John Seddon documents examples of similar failures in the United Kingdom. The track record of failure suggests that there are significant risks associated with shared services. So why are they regularly on the public sector reform agenda? Continue reading