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Inside Teaching : June 2010
News Inside Teaching | June 2010 NEWS 42 'Overall, there are some positive early indicators that the program is making progress toward achieving its intended outcomes, despite the slower than expected implementation.' That's the conclusion by the Commonwealth Auditor General (AG), Ian McPhee, who released his audit of the Building the Education Revolution -- Primary Schools for the 21st Century (BER P21) program in May. Deputy Prime Minister and Commonwealth Minister for Education Julia Gillard welcomed the AG's findings, but Shadow Commonwealth Minister for Education Christopher Pyne questioned why the audit examined the administration and reporting processes of the program, but not the question of value for money. 'There is a clear need to investigate how much money has been lost due to the reported inefficiencies, cost overruns, payment of secret fees, preferential treatment and misallocation of resources,' he said. The AG side-stepped the question of value for money, noting that, 'Under BER P21, education authorities are responsible for service delivery, which includes responsibility for achieving value for money,' but did note that 'concerns about value for money predominately arise in the case of schools that have had the design and construction of BER P21 works procured by their education authority, rather than those who procured these services themselves. 'In many cases,' he observed, 'concerns from principals and community members about value for money relate to a misunderstanding of the building standards education authorities are expected to adhere to in building education infrastructure.' The Deputy PM in April said a new implementation taskforce led by Brad Orgill, the former chairman and chief executive officer of UBS Investment Bank Australasia, would examine instances where schools raised questions about value for money. Value for money aside, the AG found that the increase in program costs from $14.7 billion to $16.2 billion 'arose from most schools having sought the maximum payments available. 'It did not flow from any deficiencies identified in the procurement processes or other activities of education authorities in delivering the program, nor was it the result of more schools seeking to participate than had originally been forecast,' the AG found. 'Ministers comprising the Strategic Priorities and Budget Committee of Cabinet (SPBC)... were aware from the outset that the BER P21 funding envelope represented only 90 per cent of possible expenditure; and it was therefore evident and transparent to SPBC ministers that, depending on the response of schools, a budget estimates variation' -- like $1.5 billion -- 'may be required,' he found. Here's how the Deputy PM explained her understanding that a budget estimates variation was required last August: 'When we budgeted for this plan, we budgeted on the basis that 90 per cent of primary schools would take up our offer to source funding to support jobs in their local community and to be building new school facilities. As it's turned out, so many primary schools want to be involved in this highly successful program that almost 100 per cent of primary schools have taken the opportunity.' Sorting out the additional $1.5 billion in funding, by the way, delayed the commencement dates for Round 3 funding. The good news, as the AG reported, was that 78 per cent of BER P21 projects met commencement targets. The bad news was that, 'Of the 10,700 approved BER P21 projects, 1,995 projects (18.6 per cent) met the construction commencement milestones originally agreed by governments for each funding round.' According to the AG's report, the program-specific rules and delivery requirements of the BER audit A Commonwealth audit of the Building the Education Revolution program gets a qualified thumbs up. STEVE HOLDEN reports.