Public works need public sector skills – the lost lessons of the BER program | OCCASIONAL PAPER

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Despite significant public attention over the last two years, the lessons of the Building the Education Revolution (BER) program remain poorly understood. While there were major differences between BER outcomes in different states, most media coverage failed to focus on the reasons why some states performed so much better than others.

Evidence from the BER program leads to two major conclusions:
•    Successful governments didn’t try to be too small: The state governments that were able to manage the risks of the program internally – instead of paying the private sector to take primary responsibility for program management – performed better; and
•    Participation matters: Close consultation with the final users of the infrastructure, the school principals and school community was another key to good performance.

In this paper CPD fellow Tim Roxburgh looks at moves in Australia and internationally to rebuild the skills needed for the public sector to deliver successful public infrastructure projects. He warns that hard-learned lessons on the dangers of insufficient in-house capacity may now fall victim to sweeping cuts aimed at reducing the overall size of the of the public sector wage bill.

Download Public works need public sector skills (PDF)

Read Tim Roxburgh’s article in the Canberra Times: Public service cuts may cost more than they save

Blog Comments

This important and good report needs to be broadened by a more comprehensive understanding of collaboration that includes the importance of independence between leadership roles.

Thanks CPD and Tim – really appreciate seeing some evidence-based, practical policy analysis and development about the public sector.  After a stint in Housing NSW during the roll-out there of the Nation Building Housing component – which ran into many of the same issues as did the BER in NSW – I spent a brief period last year working for Consult Australia- formally the Association of Consulting Engineers, and found it (and the engineering/construction industry generally) well aware of the disastrous impact the hollowing out of public sector expertise in this area has had – perhaps particularly in NSW.  It isn’t in the long-term best interests of the private sector (much less the public) for the public sector to lack capacity in contract negotiation, monitoring and compliance for publicly-funded projects but I am unaware of any NSW politicians who really understand what that means.  Meanwhile as a citizen, I see disastrous contracts being negotiated and projects being poorly governed and managed in a whole range of ways – no fault to be attributed other than politics having bested policy and process.

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