NSW’s auditor-general has canned the government’s claims that it saved the state economy nearly $900 million through red tape reduction initiatives, complaining that in many cases the dollar values attached to programs appear to have been plucked from thin air.
Auditor Margaret Crawford has taken another look at the schemes that made up the 2011 to 2015 reform program - many of which were based on new digital capabilities - and concluded that the value assumptions behind them are shaky at best.
She poked holes in claims about digitising alternatives to registration stickers, Service NSW, e-conveyancing and even the education department’s notorious learning management and business reform (LMBR) project.
More than $11 million of the savings were counted off the back of the LMBR’s online parent portal, calculated by adding up the value of travel time avoided by parents who pay their school fees in person, but can now do it online thanks to the new tool.
But the dividend was claimed before work had even started on the portal, and with the December 2014 deadline for its completion long gone the audit office said it was clear “a number of delays and technical issues” had meant “projected savings were not realised”.
A much bigger margin was said to have been pocketed from Service NSW’s ongoing migration of paper-based government transactions online, which boasted a contribution of $39.8 million towards the pool of state savings.
The economic return was once again estimated from the time people saved because they could complete the services online, rather than showing up to a shopfront.
But the auditor said she could not find any evidence to verify this specific value.
“The assessment claims that benefits will be derived faster because of the initiative, however, it does not explain how this occurs,” her report stated.
She rated the likelihood of this dividend being fully realised as “weak”.
The state Department of Premier and Cabinet’s consultants were forced to cut $7.4 million from the savings that came from abolishing registration stickers when it found Roads and Maritime Services had counted benefits from trucks and other heavy vehicles even though they weren’t included in the reforms.
The economic benefits of online enrolments at TAFE, electronic conveyancing, and electronic submission of legal forms were also deemed to be unsubstantiated.
The auditor said the red tape reduction initiative in the end amounted to little more than an accounting exercise, given most of its programs were either already started when the plans were announced or launched for reasons outside of the initiative.
“The target was rarely the driver for regulatory reform," she said.