Dr Siobhan O’Sullivan compares the Australian and UK employment systems
Siobhan is a research fellow at the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne. According to her research “Quasi-Markets and Service Delivery Flexibility Following a Decade of Employment Assistance Reform in Australia“, the UK system has reduced red tape, more innovation and creativity, suggesting the Australian system has a lot to learn from the Work Programme.
Check out our interview with Siobhan at the Welfare to Work 2012 conference:
Quasi-Markets and Service Delivery Flexibility Following a Decade of Employment Assistance Reform in Australia
14 April 2011: In 1998, we were witnessing major changes in frontline social service delivery across the OECD and this was theorised as the emergence of a post-Fordist welfare state.
Changes in public management thinking, known as New Public Management (NPM), informed this shift, as did public choice theory.
A 1998 study of Australia’s then partially privatised employment assistance sector provided an ideal place to test the impact of such changes upon actual service delivery. The study concluded that frontline staff behaviour did not meet all the expectations of a post-Fordist welfare state and NPM, although some signs of specialisation, flexibility and networking were certainly evident (Considine, 1999).
Ten years on, in 2008, frontline staff working in Australia’s now fully privatised employment sector participated in a repeat study. These survey data showed convergent behaviour on the part of the different types of employment agencies and evidence that flexibility had decreased.
In fact, in the ten years between the two studies there was a marked increase in the level of routinisation and standardisation on the frontline.
This suggests that the sector did not achieve the enhanced levels of flexibility so often identified as a desirable outcome of reform.
Rather, agencies adopted more conservative practices over time in response to more detailed external regulation and more exacting internal business methods.