In mid 2008, Sir Peter Gershon finalised a report into the efficiency and effectiveness of ICT in the Federal Government. That report was delivered to the Minister of Finance and responded to in late 2008. AGIMO was given a large role in the implementation of recommendations.
There is no doubt that the recommendations are good for the Government and promote operational efficiency across Agencies. The issues arise around the unintended consequences of action taken to implement the Gershon review, impacts of the global financial crisis and the required efficiency dividends from Agencies.
From 1997 through to 2007 the message from the Federal Government was clear. If the Private Sector could do the job then let them do it rather than employ Public Servants. Based on that, a large ICT focused industry developed in Canberra, accounting for at least 20% of the Private Sector employment in the ACT. Agencies were discouraged from employing permanent Public Servants. Now Gershon recommends the reverse in many ways.
The report makes no mention of the impact on the ICT services industry. As a result of the recommendation to employ contractors as Public Servants there has already been a noticeable reduction of work for people who were employed under the arrangements encouraged by the previous Government. There is a lot right about having Public Servants performing service delivery and technical roles that are ongoing and clearly defined. Issues arise around how it is implemented rather than the end result.
The amount of change to business related to this decision is in the order of $A300-500 million in the contracting businesses1. AGIMO held two consultation sessions on 30 Jan and 2 Feb with “Industry”. Prior to this the consultation had been with a select group of industry associations. The questions asked and the answers given suggest that there are a lot of unexpected consequences of the way Agencies are reacting to the Gershon Report.
There seem to be significant issues with what appears to be Policy on the run and it is quite unclear what AGIMO and the Government want from the Private Sector and therefore small companies in particular are unsure what they should be doing. On the surface, things look grim. AGIMO says that there will be significant opportunities in the medium term (after September) but it is still unclear what those opportunities are for and who will be best placed to participate.
What is good Public Policy in this area? Are we happy to risk losing a significant talent pool? Why should we look beyond the immediate impacts (that appear to be minor)?