Thursday, April 9, 2009

And another thing ... Back to Bhutan

I recently had an article (with Debbie Blackman) published in Public Administration and Development, which looks at civil service reform in Bhutan. Debbie and I visited Bhutan together in 2007 and have both returned (separately) in 2008 to work with civil servants there. Despite the remarkable changes going on in Bhutan in recent times there is remarkably little written on Bhutan's reforms. Part of this probably has to do with limited access but also the fact that most attention in recent times has come from the international infatuation with Gross National Happiness which, I think, tends to be caricatured and not taken seriously as a unique Buddhist-inspired development philosophy. Some have argued GNH is the Bhutanese contribution to Buddhist economics - I didn't even know this existed until I starting writing this article! You can see the abstract here or you can get the whole article from my Crawford School page. Over the next year I will do some writing on service delivery and reform in Bhutan, and perhaps over the next couple join with some colleagues to write a book of reform and democratisation. In the meantime enjoy some of the first published work on public sector reform in Bhutan!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Dole queues, hiring binges, and book contracts!

One area of employment growth has been the recent hiring binge at Centrelink - the Australian government one-stop-shop - as government gears up for a major increase in unemployment numbers. In The Australian this week it was reported that Centrelink had hired 1000 additional staff to handle to deal with the increased demand from those joining the unemployment queue. The call centre has been unable to meet demand from a combination of pressure including rising unemployment, those seeking assistance from recent natural disasters, and people desperately ringing to see when the Rudd government's "stimulus" payment will hit their bank accounts. With latest unemployment figures out tomorrow, maybe we could see some more hiring going on at the service end of government?
In a related development the recent announcement of the tender outcomes for the latest round of employment services contracts has caused outcry to say the least! More than a decade in, the system has had a real shake-up with the latest round of tendering, the first under the Rudd Government. International players have entered the game in Australia and a range of local, non-profit providers, many rated as high performing providers, have lost contracts and will now start adding their own staff to the dole queues. The Job Network, now Job Service Australia, has always been a fascinating experiment with a quasi-market: the previous government dismantled a government organisation which handled job placement for unemployment people and created a market for employment services. Whilst it took a few rounds to settle - a period over which there was a clear reduction in the number of providers as market concentration occurred - an interesting mix of competition, performance management, and attempts to develop longer-term arrangements developed. I wrote a three-part case which set out the history of employment services reform and how performance management developed in the system for the Australia and New Zealand School of Management a couple of years ago - might be time for an update!
Given the uproar over changes, including who lost contracts and why, current sentiment is that there may be a Senate inquiry to investigate the basis for awarding the contracts. Of course, in a "market", quasi as it might be, there is no guarantees of business .......
Busy time ahead for me as I embark on my first major book. Together with John Alford from the Australia New Zealand School of Government, I have a contract with Palgrave Macmillian to write a book on how government works with external parties to deliver public services. Due with the publisher June 2010 looks like John and I will be powering on through 2009-10.