Better regulations and less red tape for the social purpose sector? I’d like to see that
27 July 2020 at 6:21 pm
It’s time to work together to reduce the red tape burden, writes Neil Pharaoh, who wants to hear your stories and solutions about excessive regulation in the sector.
I sit on the volunteer board of a local Neighborhood House. However, after spending almost half of every board meeting reviewing policies, I have come to realise that something is very wrong with the volume of “red tape” in the social purpose sector. And I think it is time we collectively started to advocate about it.
The problem is, even with years of government advocacy experience, I don’t know where to start. So, while in this series of articles I am usually providing advice about government engagement, this article will be a bit different. I would like you, as NFP organisations, to share your stories about excessive regulation in the sector, plus any ideas of what we as a sector can do differently, with a view to collating them all and coming together again to discuss in a later article.
A 2020 poll commissioned by the Institute of Public Affairs found that 58 per cent of Australians believe local government contains too much red tape. Meanwhile a 2020 Edelman global survey found that 61 per cent of people trust business, media and NGOs more than government, with NGOs being seen as more ethical than government and business being seen as more competent.
“I have come to realise that something is very wrong with the volume of ‘red tape’ in the social purpose sector.”
Of course, organisations that regularly deal with the most vulnerable in our communities need oversight and regulation, but there is a distinct difference between “good” and “bad” red tape. Good red tape is a series of necessary checks and balances and a second pair of eyes on proceedings. Bad red tape occurs when too much bureaucratic process bogs things down – adding excess time, involving too many parties, delaying decisions or innovation and getting in the way of productivity.
At the last board meeting for my local Neighborhood House, I asked our executive director how many policies and procedures we have as an organisation. After almost half of each board meeting has been spent reviewing countless hundreds of pages of policies and procedures, I just had to ask – why do we need so many?
Our organisation’s main purpose is providing education and community services – mainly education services (including alternative education) for young people and community education programs for migrants and the elderly. We have several support services which wrap around these core activities – early education and childcare for attendees and a foodbank service for those attending school who can’t afford meals. But we are a small to medium sized organisation with many casual and part time staff, a volunteer board, and a dedicated and hard-working executive director.
Yet we have over 100 policies and procedure documents, just to meet our government funding requirements.
We have dozens of procedures around attendance and marking and infinitely more around child safety. All run into hundreds and hundreds of pages.
Being attentive, I asked why we couldn’t condense the multitude of assessment policies into one?
The answer still blows my mind. Each government funding body wants a specific policy for them and won’t let us merge the policies together, even if we give separate sections for each funder. Often, we are funded by different sections of the same government department, yet each one needs their information presented slightly differently and a new set of policies developed specifically for them.
In effect, each of the following agencies or bodies asks for near identical, but slightly differently presented information:
- Adult Community & Further Education Framework
- Australian Qualifications Framework
- Australia Qualifications Training Framework
- Child Care Subsidy
- Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
- Department of Health
- Department of Human Service
- National Quality Framework (Early Education)
- National Quality Standards (Early education)
- Occasional Childcare
- Victorians Curriculum Assessment Authority
- Victorian Curriculum of Applied Learning
- Victorians Registrations Qualifications Authority Non School Senior Secondary Provider
- Victorian Registrations Qualifications Authority
- Vocational Education and Training
Sometimes the government body that is funding us will firstly mandate that we meet a particular standard or authority, which in turn requires its own entire set of policies and procedures. Then in the next sentence, they will list a number of almost identical policies that we also need to have specifically for them, leading to huge duplication. It is almost as if they are unaware of what we have just had to do to meet the particular standard they mandate.
Since I stumbled upon this mess of paperwork, my challenge has been: what can be done about it? No single private sector organisation, even one largely reliant on government contracts, would accept this volume of work for their contracts, particularly when the contracts are relatively low.
“If we were individuals or businesses, we wouldn’t accept this, so why do we accept it as a sector?”
If we were individuals or businesses, we wouldn’t accept this, so why do we accept it as a sector?
Why has a public servant not actually ever sat with representatives from the sector and looked in detail at the fact that we currently have so many policies and procedures mandated for us that it is humanly impossible for anyone to have read them all, let alone fully comprehend them or even understand where to find the information needed.
This creeping encroachment of over-regulation means I don’t actually know at this point what we can do about it, nor who to ask. But to begin with, I am keen to hear your examples or potential solutions from across the social services space. I can then share (anonymised) examples in a fortnight’s time to prompt further discussion and solution generation.
What I do know is that we need to be smarter, and work together, to reduce this red tape burden. The same survey that said Australians find government less competent and ethical than other organisations also found that across the board there was a strong belief that partnerships between government and other sectors could lead to improvement. This is something I believe strongly.
So, send your thoughts and examples to the email address below and let’s start to advocate around relieving the red tape burden on the social sector together.
About the author: Neil Pharaoh has spent most of his voluntary and professional life in and around social purpose organisations, government, public policy and advocacy. Neil has been behind many leading social policy and advocacy campaigns on gender rights, equality, medical research and education, and ran for Parliament in Victoria in 2014 and 2018. He regularly runs workshops and advocacy sessions and advises leading social purpose organisations on their government engagement strategy and systems. @neilpharaoh on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Happenings on the hill is a fortnightly column focusing on all things politics, policy, campaigns and advocacy. Stay tuned for updates around political trends and elections, lobbying and advocacy news, and hints, tips and ideas on government engagement that are specifically written for the social purpose/for purpose sector.
If you have any ideas, suggestions, tips or questions, please feel free to email Neil Pharaoh at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out to him via social media at LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @neilpharaoh.