11/03/2010 - 00:00

Master-servant perception irksome

11/03/2010 - 00:00


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THERE is considerable dissatisfaction in the not-for-profit sector concerning the delivery of government-funded human and community services, the Productivity Commission has found.

THERE is considerable dissatisfaction in the not-for-profit sector concerning the delivery of government-funded human and community services, the Productivity Commission has found.

In the recent ‘Contribution of the Not-for-Profit Sector’ research report, the commission, which was asked by the federal government to assess the sector’s contribution and impediments to its development, found widespread disenchantment among NFPs with their engagement with government.

The report found that current government tendering, contracting and reporting requirements impose a significant compliance burden, and constrain the efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery.

The NFP sector, which makes up more than 4 per cent of GDP (just under $43 billion), with nearly five million volunteers contributing an additional $14.6 billion in unpaid work, believes its partnership with government to be “unequal”.

“Many in the sector are concerned that current arrangements (with government) limit their ability to innovate and respond at a local level to existing and emerging social problems,” the Productivity Commission said.

“At the same time there is a strong sense of disenchantment among NFPs about the overall quality of their engagement with government.

“This is underscored by the considerable gulf between how governments and the NFP sector view their relationship.”

The report, which was compiled following a series of roundtable meetings, consultations and submissions from NFPs around Australia, found that government agencies consider their engagement with NFPs in the delivery of human services as a ‘partnership’ (about 80 per cent of respondents).

But some of the responses regarding the meaning of a partnership showed a lack of understanding of what comprises genuine collaborative engagement, the report found.

In contrast, submissions from NFPs suggested a different view.

“It appears many NFPs consider their relationship with government ‘unequal’, with governments having ‘the upper hand’, imposing ‘top down’ solutions and requiring NFPs to comply with ‘over the top’ reporting requirements,” the report said.

Specific concerns raised by NFPs about their engagement with government include: the short-term nature of service agreements and contracts; the inappropriate transfer of risk and associated costs; and, reporting requirements disproportionate to the level of government funding and risk involved.

A report by the state government’s Economic Audit Committee, which conducted a wide-ranging review into the operational and financial performance of the Western Australian public sector, called for a more collaborative approach between government and NFPs.

The ‘Putting the Public First’ report makes recommendations which would alleviate concerns raised by the Productivity Commission, including looking at entering long-term partnerships with accredited community and public sector organisations, granting people more power over the services provided to them, improving governance and reporting requirements, and establishing a new, closer partnership between the state government and the community sector.

The EAC also recommended reducing the administrative burden on government agencies and the community sector, streamlining the administration of grants, and developing a long-term infrastructure investment plan.

The EAC is a six-member panel of senior economic and public sector management specialists, including former secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Peter Shergold, John Langoulant, Catherine Nance, Tim Marney, Peter Conran, and Mal Wauchope.

National peak body for not-for-profit organisations that assists unemployed people, Jobs Australia, believes while there is much rhetoric regarding the ‘partnership’ relationship – with government departments as purchasers and non-profit organisations as providers – the nature of tendering and purchasing arrangements and contractual requirements often reflects a “master-servant” type relationship.



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