Service Priority Review: Update

The Service Priority Review is an opportunity for a fresh lens on the sector, to assess the health of the current machinations and functions and ascertain how to better support its workforce who serve the community of Western Australia. The CPSU/CSA believes it is time that the workforce is genuinely consulted. It is you who has the accrued knowledge and experience of serving the West Australian community. In the coming weeks we will look at snapshots from our initial submission to the Service Priority Review. This week, we are focusing on prevention and diversion.

With a new government and the intervention of the Service Priority Review, there is an opportunity to utilise the planning and projections skills of the current public service to create a model which is suited to the current needs of the WA community 2017-2021, whilst being adaptable and flexible to respond to changes into the future.

CPSU/CSA members overwhelmingly indicate that the prioritisation of preventative and diversionary services in areas such as child protection, corrective services, health and education, as well as high quality services in these and others, will ensure community needs are well represented in the services that are delivered.  Expenditure on costly public sector services such as youth detention, child protection placements and policing will decrease over time as the societal effects of an investment in prevention and diversion are realised.

Unfortunately, those with direct experience are consulted very little when it comes to deciding and responding to community needs.  Historically, public sector workers have been unfairly accused of being inflexible and unwilling to be open to new ways of working when they try to indicate their belief in the design and delivery of services with an early intervention focus. 

More often, the issue is that employees delivering services are not engaged in the consultation and change management processes in implementing different service models, new technologies and structural changes in delivery.  There is also frequently insufficient training in new theory and practice models, as well as new Information and Communication Technology, as they arise.  The link between change, and improvement, is very often lacking and employees are not provided with the evidence and rationale for change which would assist them in trusting that change.

It is true that community needs shift and evolve over time as the community itself changes, however the constant is that there are sectors of entrenched disadvantage in the community which require a coordinated, multi-agency and multi-disciplinary response at the earliest available time.  ‘Band-aid’ service models, particularly when delivered by an increasingly casualised or labour hire workforce which is losing the accrued knowledge and experience it has previously retained, are costly and less effective than the former.

Unfortunately the cost of the service models increasingly being implemented by the public sector (and outsourced at unprecedented levels) are not always clear.  In fact, cost savings has been the rationale for cutting key frontline and preventative and diversionary services in favour of services which are targeted to fixing problems that have already had time to grow.  Service models of the latter are often cheaper per service, particularly to deliver.  They are often easier to implement too, as they are less sophisticated and are targeted towards a smaller group of the community (as contrasted to prevention and diversion which aims for a larger coverage of the community), so the sector can outsource at very little cost.  At first glance it is easy to see how it looks as though savings are being made.  However, the cost only appears low if the analysis is rudimentary: a “cost per service” rather than a “cost per outcome” analysis.  In short, no matter how cheaply a service can be designed and delivered, if it is ineffective and requires constant repetition, it is wasted public sector expenditure.

Prevention and diversion services have a wealth of evidence-based support (PWC, 2017) and the membership of the CPSU/CSA speak of first-hand experiences of their efficacy in practice.  Accordingly, the Service Priority Review should conduct a thorough analysis of services used both now and in the recent past, including services which have been cut, in determining the potential of the public sector to respond to community need, and for medium to long-term savings to be made.

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