Victorian budget: win for Service Victoria, central agencies

By David Donaldson

Wednesday April 27, 2016

The Victorian government has put its money where its mouth is on building public sector capacity for its second budget, putting millions towards digitising transactions and bolstering central agency capability.

Amid $6.8 billion in new service delivery expenditure and $12.4 billion in capital spending — accompanied by strong revenue growth thanks to the ongoing property boom — the government is continuing its plan for an expanded public service. Overall spending is planned to increase by 3.3% per year, just shy of a projected annual revenue growth of 3.4%.

Service Victoria, the state’s version of integrated transaction agency Service NSW, will receive a significant boost, with $81 million to fund its shift from planning to implementation next year.

The agency, which received $15 million in the Andrews government’s first budget, will provide a centralised online point for high-volume transactions such as car registrations. Only around 1% of Victorian government customer transactions are fully digitised at present.

Special Minister of State Gavin Jennings said dealing with government websites could be “confusing slow and annoying”:

“Great customer service is a core function of any successful business, and government should be no different. We don’t need a thousand different websites and hotlines for things like car registration, birth certificates and fishing licences. Service Victoria is about eliminating the frustrations and delays and lowering the cost to the taxpayer.”

Boost for central agencies, Budget Office

Central agencies do well out of the budget, with increased money to improve policy capacity and deal with the significant uptick in infrastructure investment. The government will dedicate $53.6 million for the Department of Premier and Cabinet and $29.3 million for the Department of Treasury and Finance to “enhance their policy and strategic advice capabilities”.

Jennings told The Mandarin earlier this month that strengthening the VPS skills base was a key priority for his government.

Two new agencies will help deliver new policy commitments. The School Building Authority — costing $26.6 million over four years — will oversee delivery of the government’s nearly $1 billion education infrastructure program. Jobs Victoria will co-ordinate employment programs, working with some of the state’s most disadvantaged jobseekers such as the long-term unemployed, to provide work experience and job outcomes. The government will give $52 million over four years for the body.

“The new Victorian Parliamentary Budget Office … receives $14.3 million over the forward estimates.”

The new Victorian Parliamentary Budget Office, which will offer policy costings for all parties and individuals, receives $14.3 million over the forward estimates. A bill to establish the PBO is currently before the parliament.

Some $600,000 will be put towards social impact bonds, still at relatively early stages of development in Victoria, for the market testing and procurement phases of a pilot program next year. DPC will also spend $1 million assessing the feasibility of public sector mutuals as an alternative to traditional human services delivery models.

The courts will receive $1 million to develop an integrated case management system for the Children’s, Magistrates and County courts, bringing improved technology to a system struggling to manage growing demand and outdated IT.

Among the piles of new expenditure, departments are planning to return around $84 million in savings and efficiencies over the next four years. The Department of Education and Training will make cuts of $28 million in that time by reducing its reliance on temporary labour hire and contractors and altering funding allocations.

Streamlined administrative functions and procurement savings at the Department of Justice and Regulation are predicted to recoup $40 million.

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