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Social services decisions should be closer to communities

Social services decision-making needs to be closer to communities: Productivity Commission

The Productivity Commission has released its draft findings and recommendations on improving outcomes for New Zealanders from social services. Submissions are invited by 24 June.

See video at https://youtu.be/5A5IjHbzdu4

“The social services system plays a crucial role in the wellbeing of New Zealanders”, says Commission Chair, Murray Sherwin. “The system is staffed by dedicated people working in a variety of government agencies, non-government providers and philanthropic organisations. A significant number of volunteers are part of it. Families and whanau also play a crucial role in supporting good social outcomes.

“Clients should be at the centre of the social services system, not politicians and providers. However, decisions that impact clients’ lives are often made in Wellington, many kilometres away from the messy realities of social problems, and often without good information on what works or what doesn’t.

“Our current system of public administration is not well designed to deal with the complex problems facing many of society’s most vulnerable members. Services are designed and commissioned in administrative silos, without the full picture of what an individual might need. This not only means a poor outcome for clients, but a less efficient and more expensive system overall.

“New approaches are required that can better match services to the needs of clients, give clients and particular communities greater control and choice, reduce paperwork and the cost of government processes, and encourage service providers to innovate and continually improve their services. There are already pockets of successful innovation within the sector. One challenge is to encourage those innovations to be used more widely.

“We advocate for new arrangements that reshape the roles of governments, providers and in some cases clients, to empower clients and give service providers more autonomy. The role of central government would shift, from its current emphasis on controlling the provision of services to one of conscious stewardship of the social service system.

“There is also scope to improve current purchasing and contracting practice in order to reduce the cost of these processes to all parties – including government agencies.

“The Government needs to put more effort into setting goals and standards as well as monitoring performance, and evaluating effectiveness of whole programmes. It needs to put less effort into telling providers how these goals should be achieved.

“The Commission has developed 81 findings and 47 recommendations, and poses 8 questions. The draft report is accompanied by case studies on employment services, Whänau Ora, services for people with disabilities, and home-based support for older people.

“We received a large number of submissions on the issues paper and we look forward to hearing what people think of our draft recommendations.

“We believe implementing these draft recommendations can improve the lives of clients and those working in the social services sector, and contribute towards safer, healthier and happier communities.”

The draft report is available at www.productivity.govt.nz/inquiry-content/social-services, or http://bit.ly/socserv.

About the inquiry

The Commission has been asked to look at ways to improve how government agencies commission and purchase social services. This includes how agencies identify the needs of people who use the services, how they choose organisations to provide the services, and how the contracts between agencies and organisations work.

Social services include health care, social care, education and training, employment services and community services. They also include the services targeted to those whose health, age, socioeconomic or other circumstances means that they have greater needs than others in society.

The inquiry aims to shed light on how commissioning and purchasing influence the quality and effectiveness of social services, and suggest ways to improve these practices to achieve better outcomes for New Zealanders.

Inquiry timeline

28 April 2015: Draft report released for consultation

24 June: Due date for submissions on draft report

31 August: Final report due to Government

About the New Zealand Productivity Commission

The Commission – an independent Crown entity – was established in April 2011 and completes in-depth inquiry reports on topics selected by the Government, carries out productivity-related research, and promotes understanding of productivity issues.


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