Previous confidential Budget papers released yesterday by Treasury offer a revealing insight into the way the Government makes decisions.
Most particularly they show how the new Social Investment approach led by Finance Minister Bill English picks winners and losers through the Budget process.
And the papers also reveal that the Government called in some outside consultants to help evaluate budget proposals this year.
In totality, what the papers show is a radical new approach to approving programmes for the Government to fund.
And with a frankness usually absent from official Government documents, they also offer critiques of programmes that are not recommended for funding.
The revelations come in a February document titled “Report of the Social Investment Panel.”
The panel which is a mix of 10 state sector and non-governmental representatives was established last year and meets four times a year.
One of its key roles is to evaluate social policy proposals in the Budget. This year was their first evaluation.
It is the introduction of the non-governmental representatives into the Budget process which marks the radical change.
The Panel met from 10-12 February 2016 and considered 25 proposed new initiatives in the social sector. They did not consider another 37 proposals that had been put forward.
The paper says that In its assessments of initiatives, the panel considered ((among other things) the understanding of the target population; the supporting evidence, the return on investment and the capacity of the agency to successfully implement and evaluate the initiative.
In short, it was looking for a clear outcome which would make a difference.
But the overall verdict was critical of many of the proposals that the departments and Ministries put forward.
“Few initiatives made reference to forward liability, and many didn’t show a good understanding of the population they were targeting<” they say.
“Few initiatives considered by the Panel targeted priority populations while others targeted the same or similar populations but were not coordinated.
“Similarly, the Panel noted that the focus on the customer was limited in many of the initiatives.”
the panel said there was a weak focus on evaluation and testing of ideas and said that a cultural shift around the way agencies use evaluation in developing policy might be needed.
Add all this together and it is a damning critique of some of the country’s most high profile Government departments.
However, most of the proposals that were turned down have been redacted from the published document.
The only ones published were from the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministery of Education.
The proposals that were supported were:
- A proposal for emergency housing which emerged in the Budget as funding for about 3000 emergency housing places across the country per year to cost $41.1 million over the next four years.
- An elective health target which emerged in the Budget as $24 million a year for health surgery funding.
- $124 million extra funding for Pharmac
- Temporary release and pre-release planning for Corrections.
There were other proposals were supported with some modifications. They included trial programmes before a full programme could be supported.
For the public service, this is the shape of the future.
The days of simply fronting up to the Minister of Finance and asking for more money are over.
Now the departments will have to mount a comprehensive business case and, interestingly, programmes like the emergency housing one which include a substantial role for non-governmental organisations look like standing a good chance of approval.