Mr Gourley has his own biases. They come through clearly. Still, he makes some valid points.
In her paper, Ms Westacott says in part:
The fundamental value proposition in the public sector context is better outcomes:Can you spot what’s missing here? There is absolutely no context: there is no reference to the role of the public sector in providing advice; there is no reference to politics, minsters and the nature of our democratic system; there is no understanding of roles. The public sector does the best it can, but it operates in a highly constrained environment. Ms Westacott refers to a highly constrained public spending environment, but it’s a little more than that.
services that are easier to use
- regulation that empowers rather than impedes
- a better customer experience
- better value for money for the taxpayer
- The greatest challenge in a highly constrained public spending environment is to extend the value afforded by the dollars we spend.
The public sector has many different roles. Each of those roles has different dynamics. Each needs to be addressed separately, if within a unifying framework that starts with the role of Parliament, of Government, of ministers.
Consider the first dot point, regulation that empowers rather than impedes. Who is finally responsible for regulation? I guess it depends on just what regulation and what indeed is meant by regulation. Still, in the end it is ministers and governments who actually set the framework here. Those are the audiences that Ms Westacott must address if she wishes to achieve her first point. It has little to do with either management or public administration.
Turn now to better value for money for the tax payer. There is an obvious definitional point in term of what we mean by better value for money. Leave that aside, from my experience most public servants are concerned with better value for money. I am constantly astonished by their commitment. But they can only do so within their scope and also have to cope with increasingly complex and burdensome policies, processes and procedures.
If Ms Westacott really wanted to make a difference she would focus on simplification. How do we reduce administrative overhead, break the bounds of command and control systems?
If Ms Westacott really wanted to make a difference, she would focus on structures and decisions at the top within the bounds set by our Westminster system. What has happened to the role of the minister? Is she or he just a cipher within an increasingly presidential system?
If Ms Westacott really wanted to make a difference, she would say how do we maintain innovation and creativity within increasingly cash constrained mega-agencies where everything is centralised?
Each day, I hear public servants say things like this: that’s very silly; how do we change it to minimise the effects on our clients?
Each day, I hear public servants say things like this: we have to deliver; how do we keep business as usual going given these changes?
Each day, I hear public servants saying go with the flow, do as you are told. It’s silly, but we can’t change things.
There is a very old saying: the fish rots from the head.
For over 20 years Ms Westacott, and I quote from her CV, “occupied critical leadership positions in the New South Wales and Victorian governments. She was the Director of Housing and the Secretary of Education in Victoria, and most recently was the Director-General of the New South Wales Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources.”
To my mind, Ms Westacott is part of the problem. I accept that this may well be unfair. I accept that her speech was delivered to a particular audience in a particular context. I am sure that she did many good things in her official roles. Yet in her speech there is nothing that will actually help. It seem to me to be a set of nostrums set within an intellectual framework that has already failed.