Cutting community service red tape

SCU Associate Professor Mark Hughes
SCU Associate Professor Mark Hughes Steve Spinks

HELP is on the way for community service organisations drowning in bureaucracy and red tape.

According to experts, many of the 10,000 organisations providing community services in Australia are struggling with increased costs associated with operating services and complying with contractual requirements.

Southern Cross University will attempt to help Gold Coast and Northern NSW community service organisations negotiate this audit culture so they can address the challenges facing organisations and identify practical solutions.

The Community Seminar Series, a series of four seminars will be held, the first on Wednesday May 23, at the Gold Coast campus.

The first seminar - 'Critiquing the audit culture: balderdash and baloney' - will examine how the audit culture evolved and explore issues of management, risk and accountability and their impact on community organisations.

"The importance of organisations providing community services in Australia cannot be understated," Southern Cross University Associate Professor and seminar organiser, Mark Hughes, said.

"The 2011 ACOSS (Australian Council of Social Services) Community Sector Survey identified that they provided services to people on more than six million occasions in 2009-10, an increase of 12 per cent from the previous year.

"Increasingly organisations said they were unable to meet the demand of their services and had to turn people away due to a lack of resources."

The main services people turn to agencies for included homelessness and housing needs, mental health services, emergency relief, youth services and Indigenous support services.

Nationally, more than 550,000 people are employed in organisations providing community services. Of these, 59 per cent are employed in 'not-for-profit' agencies and 81 per cent of workers in this sector are female. More than 300,000 volunteers also assist providing services to these organisations.

"The increased costs and contractual requirements for organisations has led to some small and medium agencies running deficits," Professor Hughes said.

"ACOSS has reported that red tape and compliance costs, in addition to resource-intensive tendering processes, place an onerous burden on organisations. This takes up considerable organisational resources, stifles innovation in service delivery and detracts from front-line service delivery.

"The Productivity Commission identified a number of key barriers to service delivery, including inadequate contracting processes, overly prescriptive requirements, increased micro-management, requirements to return surplus funds and inappropriately short-term contracts.

"The Commission called for substantial reform of the ways in which governments engage with and contract not-for-profit organisations."

On the Gold Coast, more than 640 community service agencies are providing a wide range of services, including housing support, transport services and services for young people. In 2006 a quarter of the organisations could not meet demand and about 41 per cent of non-government services said that they did not have adequate physical space to operate. Another 54 per cent said they had inadequate staffing levels and with the projected growth of the city the ongoing demand for services will only increase, according to figures from the Gold Coast Social Infrastructure Census (2006).

The Community Seminar Series is organised by the School of Arts and Social Sciences and the University's Gold Coast/Tweed Heads Community Reference Group.

The first seminar - 'Critiquing the audit culture: balderdash and baloney' - will be held between 8.45am to 12.30pm on May 23 with registration free by visiting the SCU website.

The second seminar - 'Creating space for collaboration in the audit culture' - will be held on Tuesday June 12.

The third seminar - 'Research and evaluation in the audit culture' - will be held on Friday August 3.

And the final seminar - 'Lobbying, advocacy and the audit culture' - will be held on Tuesday September 18.

Topics:  community service red tape southern cross university

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