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



|Man in hard hat looks to his left

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.

Public works need public sector skills
Architects employed by state government per million head of state population

In Public works need public sector skills 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

For each of these BER projects across Australia – as with any construction project – there was a risk of cost overruns, time overruns, or misunderstandings in defining the requirements for the building. The ability to successfully take on and deal with these project risks internally was affected by the level of public works capacity available to the respective state and territory governments that were responsible for implementing the BER program