23 August 2011

A further product of the Review of Expenditure on Policy Advice was published yesterday.  Treasury has set out requirements on funding related actions to be taken by departments that have a policy advice function.  This was one of the deliverables announced in the Government’s April response to the Review.  That response set out a programme for governance, knowledge management and funding activities. The outcome of the measures now prescribed by the Treasury will be that by the 2012 Budget a direct comparison will be available between agencies on the cost of providing policy advice to Ministers.

The proposal for a Review influenced Act Party support for the National led government.  Dr Scott, a former ACT candidate was appointed to chair the Review.  But those who anticipated a critical report are unlikely to take much comfort from this tame outcome. The expectation of many was that the Review would uncover widespread waste and featherbedding. The findings were quite different.

The essence of the Review report was that specific cuts to policy advice spending were not needed.  What the Government then proposed was a structure to identify and manage the costs of policy advice.

Yesterday’s Treasury Guide for Departments on the Reorganisation of Appropriations for Policy Advice provides a definition of what is to be regarded as policy advice.  It relates to the support given to Ministers, through briefing papers, policy papers and  Cabinet papers. It specifically excludes outputs like departmental policy material, Ministerial correspondence, support for Ministers in their Parliamentary functions and Crown entity governance matters.

The intention is to clarity the cost of policy support given to Ministers, prescribing greater use of multi class output appropriations to avoid double dipping by departments.

The Treasury has mandated that 29 specified policy Departments  are to give effect to the process set out in the guide. Compliance fits within both the obligation on agencies and their staff to conform to the public service principle of being “responsible” and the code of conduct standards about using resources carefully and working to improve the performance and efficiency of organisations.