Essentially, the Office asked in its audit whether the Australian Public Service’s (APS) core values could be used to assess the quality of organizations that deliver services to clients on behalf of the government.
The Office reminds us that governments have been turning increasingly to outside service providers (both not-for-profit and businesses) in order to take advantage of community-based and private sector experience and expertise.
It chose three of the APS Values that it sees as relevant to outside service deliverers: have the highest ethical standards; deliver services fairly, effectively, impartially and courteously to the Australian public; and be sensitive to the diversity of the Australian public.
The Office says that making these values part of negotiated funding arrangements would allow the government to monitor the service provider against them. It argues that taking this approach would also give service providers guidance in designing appropriate complaint and feedback systems and sensible reporting requirements.
On the first issue, it states the obvious: appropriate complaints processes can provide assurance that the systems are working effectively and dentify areas where system improvements are needed.
On the second, it warns that trade-offs may be needed so that reporting requirements don’t become so onerous they cut into client needs.
The notion of using values as one measure of improving service delivery works, though one would hope that other performance metrics would also be used.
But the Office has a higher message: it’s making clear that governments can’t abdicate their service delivery responsibilities. Sure, they can ask outside service providers to do the work for them, but in the end they must accept the challenge of monitoring them closely so that government service delivery goals and the public interest are met.