Do we need an Inquiry into Education Central?

In a media statement of May 15, the Government announced a Commission of Inquiry to investigate financial mismanagement of the previous government.

So how would their own Education Central proposal stand up under the terms of reference proposed for the inquiry?

The inquiry’s terms of reference have been published.

1. Their financial consequences – including any ongoing liabilities and obligations (intended or otherwise), and whether those undertakings represented value for money.

Helen Pederson, former President of Engineers Australia (WA chapter) stated in The West May 6-7 that Education Central was likely to cost about double that to build a regular school.

2. The adequacy of the decision-making processes leading to the awarding of the projects, including the adequacy of their supporting business cases and assessments of risks to taxpayer funds.

Sue Ellery, Minister of Education, has visited an Eastern States inner-city vertical school. Before committing to this project: no advice was obtained from the Education Department. Since the election, no business case has been released and no assessment of risks to tax-payers’ funds; and no assessment of the ability to achieve educational outcomes. Yet the Minister persists with the policy and refuses to consider other less-costly alternatives.

3. The adequacy of their procurement processes.

No doubt, the procurement processes for construction will be undertaken in accordance with the usual government procurement practices – but what of the original decision to commit to this project as the solution to over-crowding in western-suburbs schools. There was no expert or Departmental advice on the suitability of the proposal as a solution to that problem and the proposed catchment area for Perth Modern general in-take does not include the suburbs with the apparent growth issues.

4. Whether reasonable value for money outcomes were achieved.

Helen Pederson, former President of Engineers Australia: “This project does not appear to be viable financially …” Ms Pederson also expressed concerns that the proposed timeline for the project was not feasible (The West 6-7 May). No business case has been formulated for this project.

5. The validity of the use of ‘commercial in confidence’ reasons to justify non-disclosure to the public of contract information and whether that justification was valid (in the public interest) in the particular circumstances.

There has been no meaningful consultation with the Perth Modern School community and despite repeated public and private requests, the Government has failed to answer concerns or to release further details of the proposal. No reason to justify the non-consultative approach and non-disclosure has been advanced.

The terms of reference then asks the inquiry to include in a final report to government:

“Any measures that should be introduced by the State Government to ensure greater rigour and transparency in decision-making and procurement processes to ensure the highest value for money outcomes from government programs, projects and contracts.”

How about? Consult, gather evidence, consider expert advice, prepare a business case and risk assessment, assess all reasonably available options, choose the best option for the entire community based on measurable costs and achievable outcomes.

Alana Dowley
Building & Construction Lawyer
Concerned Parent, Perth Modern School
16 May 2017

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