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Govt Tendering Inquiry Submissions Call for Significant Change

7 April 2015 at 11:41 am
Xavier Smerdon
The Senate Inquiry into the Federal Government’s community service tendering processes by the Department of Social Services received 84 submissions by the March closing date - all suggesting the process needs significant change.

Xavier Smerdon | 7 April 2015 at 11:41 am


Govt Tendering Inquiry Submissions Call for Significant Change
7 April 2015 at 11:41 am

The Senate Inquiry into the Federal Government’s community service tendering processes by the Department of Social Services received 84 submissions by the March closing date – all suggesting the process needs significant change.

The Senate Community Affairs Committee Inquiry was set up by the Greens in February this year to look into the impact on service quality, efficiency and sustainability of recent Commonwealth community service tendering processes by the DSS.

Submissions were sought by 20 March 2015.

Anglicare Australia, in its submission, said the inquiry was an opportunity to learn from the experience and refocus on how Government and agencies can work better together to deliver publicly funded programs and services.

Anglicare said its member organisations were deeply involved in the community service tender processes conducted by the Department of Social Services over these past nine months.

“No one has argued the process of the 2014/15 social service tender has been optimal for stakeholders overall: clients, government or community organisations,” Anglicare said.

“Anglicare members were certainly not alone in questioning the efficacy of simultaneous tendering of a wide range of services within a very short time frame, and the resource implications it had. That was compounded in our experience by a lack of clarity in the process, from the start until the end.

“At a service level, the impact on staff – the capacity for organisations to keep people when funding is uncertain and indeed the requirement to give notice to senior staff once funding cannot be assured – proved destructive and disruptive to agencies, staff, clients and communities.

“Finally, the delay in making detailed offers to preferred providers, the unhelpful confidentiality requirements attached to them, the welcome but late provision of transitional funding to services that were scheduled to cease, have simply added inefficiency to the process and pressure to all the people involved.

Anglicare said at the time of writing its submission it was mostly blind to the actual outcomes of the tender process overall, and Anglicare network members have only a partial sense of the outcome of the DSS tender round in their areas.

“The other certain outcome of this procedure is the management of a substantial cut in funding across the relevant program areas, on top of the cut of funding indexation. We are especially interested to learn whether the outcomes will include the particular loss of small community-based services, a loss of diversity in service provision overall,” Anglicare said.

“There are also long-term implications in the loss of key staff and the disruption that is a consequence of this process and its timelines.

“Anglicare members’ staff have emerged from this experience unsure how well their community and government partnerships will survive. While the tender documentation suggested a collaborative approach with local departmental staff a part of the process, the upshot has been a broad brush competitive tender approach that simply couldn’t consider the support and collaboration that services and community groups offer each other across the board.

“The lesson from this tender process is that we need to build effective mechanisms to ensure there is a real understanding of the circumstances that government agencies and service providers work within.”

Volunteering peak bodies across Australia also made submissions to the Inquiry.

Volunteering Victoria and Tasmania lodged supporting submissions saying the DSS tender model called ‘A New Way of Working’ promised to cut red tape, streamline the application process and provide longer term funding agreements to enable the social services sector to maintain stability, certainty and efficiency.

“In reality, it did not live up to any of these promises,” their submissions said.

Volunteering Victoria, said its submission outlined the serious concerns about the tender processes and outcomes to date, and the long term impact on the volunteering sector, people experiencing disadvantage, the broader community, and NFP organisations that support those people and their communities.

“At no stage was the volunteering sector in Victoria consulted about what was currently working well, areas for improvement or work underway to enhance volunteering services – despite correspondence sent to then Minister Andrews and DSS requesting consultation (more than once),” Volunteering Victoria said.

Other submissions were from disability, housing and welfare peak bodies and organisations.

Pro Bono Australia News reported in March that the Community Council for Australia submission to the inquiry said one of the major problems with the tendering process was the Department’s lack of communication with Not for Profit service providers.

“There is a dog’s breakfast of approaches to human service contracting across Federal Government agencies and a desperate need for reform of Department of Social Services tendering practices,” the submission said.

“It seems each agency has its own rationale and its own set of mandatory components and priority principles for its particular procurement practices and reporting requirements.  Even within some agencies, there are high levels of inconsistency in approaches and processes.”

On 2 March 2015, the Senate granted an extension of time for reporting on the inquiry until 12 May 2015.

All the submissions can be found HERE.

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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