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Public Sector Informant : PSI - October
THE PUBLIC SECTOR INFORMANT 5 [OCTOBER 2010] 2010 IPA A NATIONAL CONFERENCE REGISTER TODAY AT: www.ipaanationalconference.org.au [PERSONNEL:LEE WHITE] The efficiency dividend of great leadership Leadership The best public servants strive continually to find more efficient ways to spend public money The public sector is the Australia's biggest busi- ness. Today's government departments face a host of complex challenges and opportun- ities. Chief among these is the ability to retain public trust and confidence in the development of innovative and creative policies to deliver services to the Australian community. The Australian Public Service has recognised that underpinning the ability to retain this trust is the need for a values-driven culture that pro- motes transparency and accountabil- ity; one that cultivates more col- laborative and engaging leadership behaviour and exceptional influenc- ing skills. It is unsurprising, then, that the federal government accepted all of the recommendations of the Ahead of the Game blueprint for public service reform, a roadmap for the future of the APS built on independence, excellence and innovation in both policy advice and service delivery. A key area of reform the blueprint identifies is the need to strengthen the public service's capacity to provide more strategic policy and delivery advice that addresses the most diffi- cult policy decisions of the day. In short, the government has recognised that successful reform of the APS rests on leadership: leadership to continually seek better ways to do business, to spend public funds efficiently and effectively, and to be accountable for its spending. Better managing public spending As an accountant who has worked in the public sector, spending public funds efficiently and effectively is a theme I take to heart. A great challenge facing the newly formed Gillard Government will be to return the budget to surplus in a time frame expected by the Aust- ralian community. Very few would doubt that the previous Rudd govern- ment needed to move swiftly and effectively during the dark days of the global financial crisis to inject suf- ficient money into the economy. But there is now a strong desire to not only see ''the books balanced'' but to show leadership by managing public spending better. A well-balanced fiscal environ- ment is an essential foundation on which to build good public policies. The new Finance Minister, Penny Wong, has indicated that the Govern- ment is committed to stable and responsible management that will underpin confidence, create jobs and provide certainty to business. What do I mean by managing public spending better? Some nar- rowly define government financial management as relentlessly identify- ing as many spending cuts as possible throughout its portfolios; a mantra of ''cut and save, cut and save''. But good government decision- making by the government must be based on informed analysis of prior spending performance; that is, what was spent and how well was it spent. This also extends to wider public administration. Within the APS, fur- ther enhancements could be made by connecting public spending with operational outcomes through, for example, a well-developed financial and non-financial performance measuring framework. Such a frame- work would improve financial man- agement across departments and, importantly, increase accountability on spending. Good progress has been made but more can be done; for example, setting and continually rein- forcing the ''tone from the top'' for good financial management and delivery of value for taxpayers. At the government level, we must ensure there are sufficient resources for effective oversight and parliamen- tary scrutiny. This helps efficiency. Parliamentarians should have access to the appropriate financial expertise and resources they need to provide effective scrutiny, including, for ex- ample, basic training and support in financial reporting. Achieving better financial manage- ment across government means real commitment to transparency. It also means having sufficient controls to limit a government's ability to spend. Driving change As mentioned above, seeking better ways to do business, spending public funds more effectively and holding oneself to account for public spend- ing is the leadership challenge all government departments face. That is why, over the past two years, the Institute of Chartered Accountants has fostered leadership in the APS through recognising outstanding leaders who have demon- strated innovation and best practice. Last year, the secretary of the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Dr Jeff Harmer, was named the inaugural Federal Government Leader of the Year. This year, the institute recognised two prominent APS leaders. The secretary of the Department of Immi- gration and Citizenship, Andrew Metcalfe, was named Federal Gov- ernment Leader of the Year and the award of Outstanding Contribution to Public Administration went to a Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet first assistant secretary, Dr Wendy Southern. Metcalfe was recognised for his policy development and strategic planning in a portfolio that was central to the recent federal election campaign. Southern was honoured for her role in policy formulation and strategic planning for her depart- ment's government division. These exceptional leaders have not only exhibited the skills and qualities needed to drive change in their respective departments, they have also cultivated positive working relationships and shown personal integrity in their work. This is what leadership in the delivery of services to the community is all about. Lee White is general manager of leadership and quality at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia. Andrew Metcalfe and Wendy Southern will discuss leadership at a National Press Club event on October 15.
PSI - September