Words by Clinton Barnes
“The private sector is 30% more efficient,” is what I and many of my colleagues heard as public servants under the NSW conservative government. It's a real morale booster.
Maybe public servants are just not very good. But there might be other reasons. Like checks and balances.
An un-complex example
Every semester, I spent 3 hours lodging my application for study assistance. I sought assistance in my final year studying marketing and my role was communications coordinator.
It wasn't a giant leap to join the two.
The 3 hours every few months was spent filling in two forms, providing two types of supporting documentation, and seeking approval from two other people. And then there was the follow-up: did the right people receive my application? Did they understand it? Did they know how to process it?
With my time alone that's about $165. Add-in my more highly paid approval-givers, admin time, and you're easily doubling that figure. $300-odd in resources to get a benefit of just over $900.
It gets worse
There was a commencement application where I first had to get a degree in the policy. The policy had been kindly updated, and I hear made clearer than the old one.
I tried to be thankful but by page 10 of the 14 page policy, I realised that this policy wasn't simple at all. There were forms that I needed to be approved by the finance manager, my manager, my manager’s manager, and then processed by an accountant.
The policy was dense. And no one quite knew who should process the payment at our support service, ServiceFirst (known affectionately as CircusFirst).
I logged the hours: the equivalent of 5 days.
Efforts to improve
I raised this concern with the policy's author but he had no solutions. When I told him I was eventually successful, he asked me how I did it--almost surprised. Like most in government, he had inherited the policy and copied and pasted new parts from another department--the tax office.
I wrote to his director, remarking that the process seems designed to fail to restrict applications. She agreed that it’s cumbersome and made a pledge to rectify it. Her honesty surprised me and her commitment was forthright. And in email.
A month or so later, I had heard she resigned.
Why we hate to love it
With all the resources and morale-depleting hours put in, a less robust process with a one-in-a-hundred-rorter getting through would still be multitudes cheaper.
But I get it. Imagine the headlines if anyone was found with one red cent they shouldn’t have. It's stupid and it’s inefficient but we wouldn't want it any other way.