26 October 2023

Core out external consultants by next year, APS bosses told

| Chris Johnson
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Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher in front of display

Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher has ordered agencies to end their over-reliance on consultants. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Core government work must no longer be outsourced but instead done by actual public servants.

The Federal Government has issued clear instructions to all Australian Public Service (APS) agencies that the days of over-relying on external consultants and contracted labour-for-hire are all but over.

All public service bosses must set targets to slash outsourcing by June next year.

If a job can be done by APS staff, it must be done by them.

Day-to-day functions such as drafting Cabinet submissions, drafting regulation, leading policy development, or occupying a role on an agency’s executive, must never be outsourced.

If external arrangements are currently being used for these core functions, knowledge must be transferred to the APS, according to the Government.

Core functions should also be expanded to include managing contracts, procurement, cost benefit analyses, delivering programs, and managing grants. These functions should be brought back in-house as a matter of priority.

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The Government has issued its APS Strategic Commissioning Framework, published by the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC), which requires the restriction of outsourcing to specifically defined circumstances only.

The limited circumstances for external contracts will only come into play where independent advice is needed and/or when specific roles cannot be filled by internal secondments.

These new instructions order the APS to limit the use of contractors and consultants.

The instructions apply to all government departments and agencies, and will later extend to other government-run entities.

But it’s up to the agency heads to identify capability needs and plan for a future less reliant on consultants and contractors.

Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher said the Government was committed to rebuilding the capability and expertise of the APS.

“We know that the former Liberal/National government spent billions of dollars outsourcing government work to consultants and contractors,” the minister said.

“They did this while reducing the size of the public service, undermining capability, and leaving departments under resourced.

“We have an ambitious plan to reform the APS and this framework will ensure that from now on core work will only be done by APS employees.

“Agency heads will lead this work, determining their core work, setting targets to bring it back in-house and reporting on their progress.

“Information on progress will be publicly available.”

The framework, published on the APSC website, leaves little room for misunderstanding – clearly stating that the core work of the APS must be done “by our core workforce” being APS employees.

“This expectation will wind back excessive outsourcing and its impacts on the skills held and used in APS agencies,” according to the website.

“All agencies must move away from outsourcing work that is the core role of the APS or the agency.

“Agency heads are accountable for rebalancing their workforce to prioritise direct employment, strengthen capability, and ensure any use of external expertise enhances the work and knowledge of the APS…

“This framework sets a clear expectation that most roles and functions will be delivered by APS employees, outlines limited circumstances in which external workforces could be appropriate, and ensures the APS maximises the benefit of any external arrangements.

“Over time – when supported by APS recruitment, skilling and mobility – this approach will deepen system-wide capability and reduce the risks to integrity, expertise and public trust posed by excessive outsourcing.

“Monitoring and reporting arrangements will hold agencies accountable for their progress.”

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has welcomed the new instructions, saying the framework will provide a transparent and accountable way for the Government to continue moving away from outsourcing and toward insourcing.

CPSU national secretary Melissa Donnelly said the union had consistently fought for public sector work to be put back into the hands of public sector workers.

“We are pleased to see that the Government is continuing to reduce the over-reliance on consultants and contractors but urge them not to do this in isolation,” Ms Donnelly said.

“Any reductions in external staff must be matched with increases in secure APS jobs and done in consultation with employees.

“Cutting consultants should not just be about saving money, but about building public sector capacity and ensuring the APS has the resources and employees to get the job done for the Australian community.

“The Government must reinvest all savings back into increasing public service capacity and capability.”

Original Article published by Chris Johnson on Riotact.

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