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Senate Committee criticises DSS tender process

On 16 September 2015 the Senate Committee released the final report on its inquiry into the Department of Social Services (DSS) tender process. The majority report heavily criticised the process and reached a number of damning conclusions, including:

  • “Based on evidence to the inquiry, the committee concludes that the 2014 tendering process was poorly planned, hurriedly implemented, and resulted in a loss of services. The department sought and promoted innovative and collaborative applications but then provided too short timeframes for the sector to achieve this. Further, the process does not appear to have been equitable and transparent, with an apparent inherent bias toward larger providers at the expense of local knowledge and expertise that smaller providers have developed in response to their clients’ needs.”
  • “Instead of constructively engaging with the sector, the department throughout the process kept providers and peak bodies at a distance and the sector felt the department undervalued their expertise, experience and role. In addition, the process has damaged relationships between providers by pitting them against each other and engendered greater mistrust of the department.”
  • “Unsurprisingly, many of the outcomes of the process have also been poor. Subsequent gap-filling funding decisions, coming so shortly after the tendering process, are effectively an admission that the process had significant flaws.”
  • “An effective tendering round would have identified current and prospective service provision in localities across the country and put out tenders accordingly. It would also put an appropriate weighting on the skills and knowledge of community-based or specialist providers have in assessing tenders. The results show this was either done poorly or not at all.”
  • “It is of little consolation to the sector that the department has sought to improve the process with an external review but did not engage with them. Further, the department has not sufficiently explained how it will amend its process to ensure that future funding allocations are more properly targeted.”

You can read the Senate Committee final report here.

Senate Committee recommendations

The final report made 12 recommendations including:

  • Future tendering processes should be planned strategically. In some circumstances, competitive tendering processes may not meet the needs of the community sector.
  • Future tender rounds should consider a weighting on the contribution small, community-based organisations provide to their community.
  • Where possible, five-year contracts should be awarded.
  • Advocacy support should be considered a vital component of future funding arrangements.
  • Funding should include consistent and adequate indexation of funding.
  • The Minister should authorise publication of the final report of the NOUS review.
  • An urgent review should be conducted of where critical service gaps continue to exist and these gaps should be filled immediately.
  • After 18 months, an independent evaluation be undertaken and made public.
  • The Auditor-General should conduct its own review into the tendering process, including examining the impact on service delivery, advocacy and the support available to vulnerable people and communities.

You can read the recommendations here.

Advocacy by volunteering peak bodies

The national, state & territory volunteering peak bodies were deeply concerned about the DSS grants process and outcomes, and the long term impact on the volunteering sector, the broader community, people experiencing disadvantage and the not for profit organisations that support them.

Led by Volunteering Victoria, the volunteering peaks strongly campaigned for improvements to the grants process by making detailed written submissions and giving oral evidence to the Senate Committee Inquiry.  You can read background information about the campaign here.

We know our advocacy had a significant impact because we were cited numerous time throughout the final report and the Committee took on board many of the issues we raised. The Committee also specifically acknowledged the important role of peak bodies by saying:

  • “Peak organisations offer a unique service to the sector and to government and are not easily replaced.”
  • “A well designed tendering process should have taken into consideration the complex nature of the community services sector, including the relationship between peak bodies and their member organisations.”

The volunteering peaks will continue to advocate on behalf of the sector by calling on the new Prime Minister and new Minister for Social Services immediately implement all 12 recommendations.  You can read the Volunteering Tasmania press release here.