Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Australia's economic stimulus packages - the practical difficulties in cranking up spend

One of the interesting side-effects of the various Rudd Government measures intended to stimulate the economy is the delivery pressures created.

In recent years, Australia's public sector has been under constant pressure to do more with less. Now the funding taps have been turned on, with pressure to spend in the 08-09 and especially 09-10 financial years for counter cyclical purposes.

This pressure flows from Canberra down through the COAG (Council of Australian Governments) process to individual state agencies. Throughout Australia, thousands of public servants are working on spend proposals, negotiating supporting arrangements with the Commonwealth, developing implementation plans.

From a public service perspective, there is a great feeling of liberation to know that you can now do some of those things that were clearly necessary but were simply out of court because of lack of funding. However, there is a very real problem here.

There is absolutely no point in developing plans when you know that those plans cannot be implemented. Here one side-effect of the past budget constraints, the need to do more with less, is that the development pipeline has thinned over time. Now when we want to spend, we are actually starting from scratch in many cases.

Inevitably, there will be some waste. By this I do not mean that project spend itself will be inefficient in a financial sense, although this may occur. Rather, that our lack of forward planning means that we will not get the best results from the spend in a longer term economic sense.       

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